If you've ever shopped online, you've seen the box provided for "special code" or "promotional code." This magical savings box shows up somewhere between your online "cart" and the act of inputting your credit card information. These offers allow you to enter a series of numbers and letters to receive anything from 25-percent off to free shipping.
These are, in essence, digital coupons provided as incentives to repeat customers or members of the site's rewards programs. You don't have to be a member or a VIP, you just need to know the right combination of letters and numbers that will get you that discount.
In recent years, independent Web sites have cropped up listing promotional codes from stores including amazon.com, americangirl.com, sportsauthority.com and 1800flowers.com. If you are willing to spend a little extra time hunting around these sites, you can save a bundle on a varied and diverse list of products.
The February 2006 Consumer Reports Money Adviser says the Top 5 savings code sites are:
FYI: For this experiment, I used a Hewlett-Packard -- HP -- all-in-one printer as my test product to search for. I searched the model number on all the sites and had varied results.
This site asks you to search by store. I tried searching allonline.com for deals at amazon.com, where I planned to buy the printer, but found the Amazon coupons had nothing to do with printers or HP.
When I entered "HP" in the search terms, allonline.com directed me to the HP shopping site, something I hadn't immediately thought of. There it listed a $10-off coupon or a 20-percent off offer on certain printer models including the model I wanted.
Currentcodes.com allows you a little more search flexibility: You can search either by store or by category. When I entered HP, it told me there were no HP coupon codes available, but did list sitewide offers HP was promoting.
Findsavings.com lets you search by product, and it has a professional and organized interface. But for the HP printer model I desired, my quest turned up empty. Findsavings.com offered a $100 rebate for a different HP printer and when searching printers in general it came up with four alternative printer coupons. This site ties into a shopping site, so be sure it is offering you actual discount codes and not just links to third-party partner sites.
The Consumer Reports article lists keycode.com as the best online coupon code site. The layout of the site is incredibly user-friendly. You can search for a specific product, browse categories and merchants, and see nice graphical images of featured deals. When I searched for my HP printer, keycode.com had some HP deals, but none that would work for my specific printer.
Slickdeals.net is more like a blog. Specifically, each recent day has a listing of current or new offers. The site offers a way to search by product, category and manufacturer. There is also a sitewide search. Slickdeals.net seemed to be most up to date and responsive to current offers. It had less of a shopping or promotional feel, and I found the best offer for my printer on slickdeals.net. Searching Hewlett-Packard -- it didn't recognize "HP" -- I found a $20-off code that worked for me on the HP site.
I searched for "coupon codes" and "savings codes" online and got millions of results. Of the results I looked at, epinions.com, the online shopping referral site, had a resource page devoted to the topic. This included recent code lists from contributors. Be sure to check the dates on any information about codes because most of these deals expire after a few months.
One other site I liked was momsview.com. It had a very searchable database of codes and offered a ton of up-to-date coupons.
Overall strategy when using codes:
Search online for "coupon code" or "savings code" and the brand of the product you want to buy. This tactic may take you to an obscure site that has a code pertinent to your product, especially if you are buying something unusual.
Search multiple sites before you buy. Some of these sites rely on the public to input deals; others have staff that comb through sites looking for deals. There is a lot of variance from site to site on the deals you can find.
Check the dates listed with any codes. If you go through the checkout process and enter a code that's expired, the site should pop up an error telling you the code is no good.
Make sure you are actually getting a deal. Some of these offers are not actually discount codes, but just links to a third-party e-tailer who may or may not have a good price on an item. Before you confirm your purchase, an actual code should be listed with the price, sales tax and shipping as a discount ("20 dollars off the printer with code 2sgr43").
Some codes and discounts can be combined. Check the front page of the company's Web site to see whether any other offers are available.
If you clip coupons in the newspaper or magazines, look for online codes. Many brick and mortar retailers prefer you visit their online stores and try to encourage customers to buy online.