Jill Cataldo: E-e-e-coupons! What shoppers need to know

Shoppers face an array of coupons in electronic form these days: Print-at-home coupons; e-coupons that can be loaded to a store's loyalty card; and coupon apps for smartphones and tablets. Technology can make it easy to access discounts. But some shoppers feel that the rise of digital couponing is leaving them behind.

Dear Jill,

I need advice. I have used coupons since 1980. I found it easy: Get the Sunday paper, clip away and check sales. Now I find myself 55 and disabled, and discounts are sent to shoppers via cell phones. So, my daughter got me a cell phone. I gave my cell phone number out so I could receive discounts, but my cell phone does not print or even show the discount code. It's not a smartphone. My daughter got me a laptop, but I do not have a printer. I have to go to the library to print. Is there a better way? - Lila G.

Dear Jill,

I think switching to digital coupons is a conspiracy to take coupons away from people who need them most! We are online, but we don't have a printer. No data plans, no cellphones, can't afford it. We have a pay-as-you-go phone for emergencies. Companies doing all the switching to high-tech coupons are leaving people like us hanging. We need the discounts but can't afford all the new high-tech toys to get them. - Tom S.

Dear Lila and Tom,

The world's going digital, and couponing's going right with it. Part of the reason is that most of the world is online. According to an April 2012 Pew Research Center study, 90 percent of Americans making between $50,000 and $74,999 are online. Among Americans earning more than $75,000 annually, that number jumps to 97 percent. Just 62 percent of Americans making less than $30,000 a year are online.

With so many people online in one form or another, retailers and manufacturers are simply meeting people where they're at - and where many of them are at is online. Print-at-home coupons have been around for more than a decade now. The website coupons.com was founded all the way back in 1998. Load-to-card e-coupons have risen dramatically in popularity in the past four years. And smartphones have brought an entirely new element to couponing. According to a May 2012 report from ComScore, a Reston, Va., digital media measurement company, 75 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers use text messaging, and 51 percent of them use smartphone apps.

I understand that the push for digital coupons is leaving a segment of the population underserved. And I don't believe companies intentionally exclude anyone from using coupons. They're simply seizing an opportunity to deliver discounts via mediums that most people are using in today's world.

Here are a couple of suggestions on how to embrace some of these new technologies. If your store offers e-coupons that can be loaded to your shoppers' card via a phone app, drop by the store's website and check to see if it's possible to load the e-coupons via the web. Many e-coupons can be loaded either way. It's likely you don't need a smartphone to load digital coupons to a loyalty card.

Printable coupons are easy to take advantage of if you have a printer. If buying a new printer is out of reach, how about a used printer? I've seen used printers at my local thrift store for as little as $2.99. Some resale stores guarantee electronics and allow returns. Buying refilled ink cartridges will help save money over buying new.

Print coupons on the back side of scrap paper, fliers or mailers you recycle. I keep a box next to my printer. Being able to load and print coupons at home will help supplement the coupons you receive in the newspaper - and save a trip to the library to print.

• Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com.


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