SAN FRANCISCO -- The wobbly economy is perking up at least one Internet business: online coupons.
This winter, 38.6 million Americans will use online coupons, up 22% from the same period last year, says Simmons Market Research Bureau.
"With the holidays here, the economy slumping, consumer confidence down and headlines screaming layoffs, we're seeing coupon clicks soar," says Steven Boal, CEO of Coupons Inc., the world's largest Internet coupon distributor. It has more than 900 clients, including General Mills gis, Kraft Foods kft and Pillsbury.
In November, more than $50 million in savings was printed on Coupons.com, more than double May's total.
Shoppers who use the site save an average of $40 to $50 a week, or $200 a month, Boal says.
General Mills, like other large brand names, is shifting more dollars from traditional coupons in publications to Internet print coupons, "because we are reaching younger, incremental consumers in a quicker and more cost-efficient way," says Karl Schmidt, director of promotion marketing for General Mills.
Coupons.com alone saves consumers an estimated $485 million annually through printed coupons redeemed at retailers.
CoolSavings.com, whose business partners include Pillsbury and Hershey's hsy— says people visiting its site printed, on average, 477,843 coupons a month from July through October, vs. an average of 213,630 coupons monthly in 2007.
"We expect the flood of coupons and other discounts to grow even stronger next year," says Eric Best, CEO of Mercent, which tracks the average dollar value of discounts applied to orders.
"I got good deals on golf clubs, clothes and gifts for my children," says John Hurley, 47, a sales manager in Huntley, Ill.
He uses BradsDeals, a website that monitors online coupons and deals.
"People are shopping earlier, looking harder for deals," says John McAteer, head of retail at Google. "Two years ago, people thought coupons were dead, that consumers didn't have the patience to cut and clip them. But there has been a resurgence."
The rush to coupons has not been overlooked by cybercrooks.
Computer-security firm Trend Micro says some cybercrooks have created e-mails with fake coupons attached that purport to be from McDonald's and Coca-Cola. But the attachments contain computer worms.