Coupons Make A Comeback Online

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Once considered a prime candidate for paper obsolescence, the coupon has a new lease on life. Omar Gallaga, who covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman, says social-networking sites and online coupon programs are responsible.


In these uncertain financial times, many Americans are getting help from an old friend, the coupon. But this isn't just your old-fashioned 50 cent clipping that we're talking about. Today's coupons live as much on the Web as they do in the Sunday paper. In the advent of online social-networking sites, it's allowed fellow savers to pull their resources, share tips, and spread the word about hot deals, sometimes even before they hit the shelves.

For more on the old coupon's new high-tech lease on life, I'm joined by Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman, and he recently immersed himself in the online coupon subculture.

And Omar, what did you find?

Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Austin American-Statesman): I found big savings. I found people walking out of the grocery store with a cart full of groceries for about $14. I found bloggers who strategize with other people online and can feed a family of four on $40 a week. Just found a lot of communities that have blossomed around the idea of getting the most out of your dollar.

NORRIS: People blog about coupons?

Mr. GALLAGA: People blog about coupons, but they also blog about how they're spending their money. They blog about how they strategize before they go to the store. This is what I'm going to buy, and these are the meals that I'm going to make over the next two weeks with those groceries. And with some of the deals that are very complicated, like at some of the drug stores, they have extra care bucks or rebates. And the blogs sort of disseminate that information, tell other readers this is how I'm playing this out, this is how to strategize, this is how to get the best deals. There really is kind of an art to it. And for someone who's new to it, it really helps to go to these Web sites and get the information on how the, sort of the semi-pro is doing it.

NORRIS: The person who actually filled up a grocery cart and paid only $14 for that haul, were they bragging on some kind of blog? Is that how you found them?

Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah. That person, Rochelle Hamby, she runs a blog in Austin called And, yeah, she talked about how using a manufacturer's coupon coupled with a store coupon coupled with any other special deals that you might get out of a loyalty card, you can walk out with some really amazing deals. But what you do is you kind of look out for when there's the lowest prices and then strike with all of those coupons that you've been saving and stacking up.

NORRIS: What do the manufacturers think about this?

Mr. GALLAGA: The manufacturers have actually been promoting coupons on their own Web sites. Proctor and Gamble has a Web site where you can sign up and print coupons. Kraft has a newsletter that you can sign up for that has coupons. Especially the stores themselves, they keep track of the blogging sites. CVS, for instance, they have told me that they definitely read the shopping blogs and they sort of adjust the program based on how the people are using it and, you know, the criticisms that they might see on blogs or on forums.

NORRIS: And we're not just talking about groceries, right?

Mr. GALLAGA: No. Drug stores have actually been very popular among the shopping blogs, where you can get other things besides just groceries. You can get cosmetics, beauty products, some kinds of electronics. And there is a whole culture online of shopping blogs for even high-end items: HD TVs, computers, electronics. But right now, with the way the economy is, a lot of these bloggers are focusing on groceries because they feel everybody needs paper towels and toilet paper and tooth paste. And these are the things that if you can get practically for free for when you need them, you're way ahead of the game.

NORRIS: For someone who is uninitiated, what's a good place to start?

Mr. GALLAGA: There is a Web site called The Grocery Game that does a lot of the leg work for you. They will create a custom shopping list for you that's even regional that will take into account where you're located and what grocery stores you have in your area, and you can print out a color-coded shopping list that will tell you exactly how much you're saving on each item. Now this is a pay service. For each store that you add to your account, it's $5 per month per store. But if you're paying $5 a month but saving, you know, $20 or $30 per shopping trip, it really pays off.

NORRIS: Does it provide the coupons, or do you have to go and hunt the coupons down yourself?

Mr. GALLAGA: No. You have to hunt the coupons down yourself, but, you know, you can look in magazines and newspapers. There's a site called where you can actually print them out. The thing is, different stores have different policies on how they handle coupons. Some won't accept coupons that are printed online, but then other stores will let you double or triple coupons. So you really have to be familiar with your local store and what their policies are on coupons and special deals.

NORRIS: Omar Gallaga, always good to talk to you. Happy shopping.

Mr. GALLAGA: Thank you, Michele. Happy shopping to you.

NORRIS: Omar Gallaga, he covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman.

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