NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2010
Save Money Grocery Shopping with Online E-Coupons
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host
(click to email author)


Just like all other families, my family buys a lot of groceries. Between us humans, the dog, and the cats, we easily spend hundreds of dollars a month on groceries and related household needs. Considering the increase in commodity prices that have been driving up grocery prices, as well as tight budgets influenced by prevailing economic conditions, we seem to use more coupons at the supermarket than in the past. Traditionally, our primary sources of grocery coupons have been the coupon supplements in the Sunday paper, and the weekly coupons that arrive in the mail almost every Wednesday. While paper coupons are distributed nationally by the billions, we consumers must clip them, sort them, plan to use them prior to their respective expiration dates, and try to remember to bring them to the store in the first place. What I have found especially convenient and useful are some websites that can digitally load coupons to my store shoppers' card, or even my cell phone, for use at the register without the need to cut and carry a bulging envelope of coupons to the store.

Many, but not all, of the major supermarket chains now use some type of digital shoppers' card which the shopper has scanned during the checkout process. Almost all of the stores that do utilize such a card now have a process in place where digital coupons can be added to the card and automatically credited at the checkout without the need to present a paper coupon, the value of the coupon being automatically credited at the register. Locally, the only supermarket offering this service is Kroger, but in this region other stores that utilize these digital "e-coupons" include Randall's, Tom Thumb, Safeway, and a few others. Around the country, some of the other chains that participate in the e-coupon program are Von's, Ralph's, Fred Mayer, Fry's (the supermarket, not the electronics store), and many others.

To have the e-coupons added to the store card is a very easy process to perform online. The first digital coupon service that I used was AOL's ShortCuts.com (shortcuts.com). Registration was free and very easy, and I registered my shopper's card at the website. As I type this, there are about 50 e-coupons listed that I have not previously selected, most of them in the 50 cent to $1 range, all for name-brand grocery items. To get any or all of those coupons added to a card, all one needs to do is click on the "+ ADD" button adjacent to the item, and the coupon is added to the card; this process being repeated until all desired coupons are added to the card. The expiration date of each e-coupon is clearly displayed, and as a reminder a shopping list containing the coupons can be printed. Upon checkout at the store, when the eligible item is scanned, the coupon value is applied. Depending upon the store, the coupon credits are either listed adjacent to the item when scanned, or displayed on a list at the bottom of the receipt. While these e-coupons are extremely convenient, they are usually only good on a single item (unless a quantity purchase is required for redemption), and they are typically not doubled in those stores that multiply low value coupons. ShortCuts.com also offers a selection of printable coupons that can be redeemed wherever coupons are accepted. The printable coupons can be printed individually or in sheets need to be clipped, just like the newspaper coupons. ShortCuts.com utilizes a Java utility to print the coupons, so Java must be installed and active on the computer in order to print the paper coupons. By choice, I elected to receive a weekly email from ShortCuts.com which displays the week's new coupons, which can be easily added to my card. Expired coupons are transparently deleted from the card, such that only valid and current e-coupons are available.

There is another provider of e-coupons that I use regularly, and that is Cellfire at http://www.cellfire.com. Registration is very simple, but requires the use of a cell phone number as a user name, and the password is the year of birth. On Cellfire, e-coupons can be selected online and added to the registered store card, or can be accessed by cell phone, without the need for a computer. Apps are available for iPhones, Blackberry devices, Android phones, and devices using Windows Mobile. According to Cellfire, "Go to http://www.cellfire.comwww.cellfire.com from your mobile phone and we'll automatically detect your phone type and provide instructions on how to access our service." With a compatible phone, coupons can be selected and added to the card just as they are from the computer. E-coupons from Cellfire are redeemed exactly the same as e-coupons from other services. What is different about Cellfire is the smart phone apps, as well as the ability to create some merchandise and services digital coupons on almost any cell phone that can receive digital images as text messages. Unlike e-coupons on a grocery shoppers' card, Cellfire can use any of the smart phone apps listed above, or users can access a mobile version of Cellfire from any internet capable cell phone. In addition to the grocery coupons on the shopper's card, Cellfire can display digital coupons on the phone screen for use at retail stores and service businesses. Right now in my neighborhood, the only participating retailer is Sears Photo Studio, where a variety of coupons can be displayed on the cell phone and scanned by the cashier to get the listed discount.

Several of the supermarket chains now offer their own online e-coupons that can be added to the shopper's card. In my neighborhood, Kroger offers this service on its "Plus Card" from the Kroger.com website, linking to a service called "Softcoin". Kroger will allow up to 150 coupons to be active at any time on its Plus Card. To select an e-coupon, the user simply checks the box adjacent to the coupon, and once all desired e-coupons are selected, the user clicks on "Load Coupons to Card". Clicking on the "My Coupons" link will display all of the selected coupons, and this can be used to produce a "printer friendly" shopping list. While these coupons are not multiplied when redeemed, they are extremely convenient to use, as there is no required user intervention other than having the Plus Card scanned at checkout, and the values are automatically credited.

E-coupons in their several varieties are extremely easy to use, and are more efficient for both the shopper and the store, as there are no paper coupons to clip, carry, sort, and count. One of the e-coupon services above shows that I have redeemed over $70 in its e-coupons in the past year, many of which I may not have used if they were paper coupons. As more and more businesses use some type of shoppers' card, I would expect to see a wider use of e-coupons.

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