How Puget Sound area companies are keeping up with the coupon craze

In their recession daze, consumers want one thing: a good deal.

That’s prompting retailers to try various outlets — both traditional and social media — as a means of passing along savings to customers.

But one tried-and-true option, the coupon, is getting a facelift of sorts, thanks to consumer demand and new technology.

“Coupon usage is up in the past year,” said Becky Skaggs with Top Foods and Haggens grocery stores.

It’s a trend that extends not just to grocery stores but to most retailers, especially during the holidays. A holiday shopping survey conducted by consulting firm Deloitte revealed that 44 percent of respondents plan to use a coupon that they obtain from an online source. And about 40 percent of shoppers who participated in a National Retail Federation survey earlier this year said that coupons would influence where they shop.

Surveys indicate consumers are turning not only to newspapers for coupon-clipping but also to coupon Web sites, to Facebook and Twitter, and to mobile phone applications.

“There are new avenues and new opportunities that we didn’t have in the past,” said Skaggs, who distributes coupons through the newspaper, on the grocery stores’ Web sites and on Facebook.

Many newspapers, TV stations and radio outlets have started their own coupon sites. The Herald recently launched Deals &Discounts to connect advertisers with people looking for bargains online.

Several Web sites serve as coupon clearinghouses, where consumers can find both online and store coupons for their favorite national retailers. Some of the sites, like, allow consumers to bring up coupons on their mobile phones, bypassing need the to carry printed coupons. Besides newspapers and social media sites, many local retailers use ValPak, which mails coupons to residents’ homes and publishes those coupons online.

Recently, a couple of companies are putting a new twist on coupons.

Groupon Inc. launched in November 2008. The premise: harnessing group buying power for consumers while delivering guaranteed customers for retailers. For each featured city, including Seattle, Groupon features one daily deal. The retailer sets the minimum number of customers who have to agree to buying the featured deal. As long as the minimum is met, then consumers who signed up receive the discounted item or service. And retailers have business in the bank.

For instance, Vertical World, which offers indoor rock-climbing at Puget Sound area locations including one in Everett, was featured in a recent “deal of the day” at Groupon. The company offered an $11 one-day pass, including gear rental — a savings of $12. More than 1,000 coupons were purchased that day.

Another online coupon company, Yowza, got started in time for the holiday shopping season. Yowza developed an iPhone application for coupons. The discounts aren’t simply the ones shoppers would see elsewhere. And consumers don’t need to print the coupon to use it.

The Yowza application is location-based, so it will find retailers that offer deals as a shopper moves from place to place. The company says it plans to make its application available on Blackberry and Palm Pre phones soon.

No matter what the means of distribution, it’s clear that the coupon craze isn’t going to fade soon. Although the economy may have renewed consumers’ interest in coupons, shoppers’ desire to save money could stick with them even when the economy turns around, Skaggs said.

“Saving money is cool,” she said.

Coupon Web sites:

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