Restaurants and others tempt shoppers with 2-for-1 coupons

Few come-ons are more enticing to folks on tight budgets than these three words: two-for-one.

That may be why, in the economic downturn, two-for-one offers are showing up in so many industries at once — from restaurants to retailers to telecommunications companies. Even some car dealers and home sellers are testing twofers.

The deals, also known as "buy one, get one free" offers, are a way for retailers to avoid price discounting — which is hard to reverse once folks get used to lower prices. Limited-time "twofers" also play on the current consumer need to feel OK about spending money on anything.

"The real driver is that people feel guilty about shopping right now," says Thomas Hine, author of I Want That! How We All Became Shoppers. "In times of economic uncertainty, people are more willing to make a purchase if they feel they're being responsible." Of course, he warns, they also might be nudged into buying stuff they don't need.

Twofers give folks a feeling of control in hard times, says Los Angeles ad psychologist Renee White Fraser. "There's that wonderful sense of power when you're getting a deal."

Some of the twofer deals:

• Restaurants. T.G.I. Friday's is offering two entrees for the price of one for customers who bring in coupons downloaded from www.fridays.com. The promotion expires Sunday. "This is driving traffic," says Andrew Jordan, marketing chief.

Ruby Tuesday is offering two-for-one entrees in half of its markets via newspaper inserts and coupon downloads. "Consumers are looking for offers like this," spokesman Rick Johnson says.

• Retailers. For three months, Men's Wearhouse, the clothing chain, has offered a two-for-one special on hundreds of men's suits at $399 and up. "It's the first time we've had an offer like this," says President Doug Ewert, who says it's boosted store traffic.

• Telecommunications. Verizon Wireless has offered two-for-one phone promos before, but for the first time it's offering BlackBerrys, spokesman Jim Gerace says. A two-year contract is required. "This is a way to get others in the family — or small business — to use the device."

• Car dealers. At all 15 Russ Darrow Group car dealerships in Wisconsin, customers who buy a pricey new car or truck can get a "free" used car worth up to $10,000. "We are trying to unload our inventory of new vehicles," owner Russ Darrow says. "We had to be aggressive."

• Home builders. Last summer, San Diego home builder Michael Crews had a "Buy one home, get one free" offer. Folks who bought a $1.6 million estate home would get a $399,900 row home for "free."

There were no takers, marketing director Dawn Berry says, but it created lots of buzz and additional foot traffic.

TELL US: What two-fer deal gets you out of the house?

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