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The Coupon Lady: Understanding e-coupons

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This week, I am answering a fan’s question on electronic cou­pons, often called e-coupons.

Bobbie asks: “I was looking on the P&G everyday Web site and it said something about loading coupons on to a shoppers card? What is this and where can it be used? I know of stores having their own shoppers card’s like Kroger that you can load e-coupons onto, but wasn’t sure about this. Can you explain?”

E-coupons are manufacturer coupons that are downloaded directly onto your customer loyalty card from an Internet Web site. The main appeal of using e-coupons is they need no special binder or equipment and are generally ready to use about an hour after being loaded to your card.

To access e-coupons, you need to obtain a loyalty card. In our area, the grocery and drug stores that use shopper loyalty cards are Kroger, Bi-Lo, Food Lion, CVS and Rite Aid. Once you get your loyalty card, the next step is to register it at the store’s Web site with your address and your e-mail. Registering your loyalty card often gives you access to early viewing of upcoming sales, e-mails often containing special savings and special coupons through regular mail.

Once you’ve registered your card, you can access the e-coupons available on the store’s Web site. Once you sign in, you will be allowed to load your card with e-coupons.

In addition to store Web sites, other places offer e-coupons. The three major e-coupon sites are Savingstar, Shortcuts and Cellfire. These companies ask you to input your name, address and card number and load coupons to your card. Cellfire even offers special coupons such as $1 off your next purchase.

You can also find e-coupons on coupons.com and couponnetwork.com. More companies are following suit, such as P&G, which Bobbie mentioned in her question. You have to register your participating loyalty card on www.pgesaver.com, complete with account number on the Web site. I registered my Kroger card and instantly had 56 P&G coupons available to load unto my card.

I think e-coupons are a great way for a traditional shopper to save money. However, smart shoppers need to be aware of several issues. One potential problem is that once you add an e-coupon on your loyalty card, the coupon cannot be removed or added back once your card has been scanned, and it will be taken off before any other discounts. This can make using e-coupons tricky because often you can find higher-value coupons available in inserts or Internet-printable Web sites.

Another issue is that e-coupons have strict item limitations, even if you need to purchase multiples of one product. The cardholder is usually limited to one like coupon per card, and the card itself usually has a limit of no more than 150 coupons that can be loaded onto the card at any time.

Another potential problem for coupon users is that e-coupons do not double like paper coupons or Internet-printable coupons. For example, Kroger doubles paper and Internet-printable coupons up to 50 cents. If I have a 50-cent paper coupon, then I have $1 savings on that item after doubling. However, if I use a e-coupon, I would only save 50 cents. In that case, it is better not to use the e-coupons.

Until 2010, most stores allowed a customer to stack e-coupons with paper coupons, making stores that allowed the practice favorites with heavy coupon users. However, in 2011, that practice was discontinued in most grocery chains, and now e-coupons are considered manufacturer coupons that cannot be used in addition to paper coupons.

Because of these issues, I usually only add e-coupons onto my shopper’s card when I am sure that I have no paper coupons for that item. However, as long as you know what coupons you need and those that you don’t, e-coupons can provide another way to find great savings on the items you need. Until next week, happy shopping!


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