Coupon Codes: Can You Crack Them?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When Brad Wilson founded in his dorm room a decade ago, he gained a quick following of family and friends eager to see what deals and coupon codes he could track down. But not everyone was thrilled with his efforts.

“I can’t tell you how many letters from New York lawyers I received,” he says. “It used to be something retailers wanted to stop, and that was the approach they took. They didn’t want [coupon codes] disseminated on the Internet.”

That Wilson has gone from fending off lawyers to negotiating discounts with the retailers themselves says a lot about how far online couponing has come in the past 10 years. Today virtually all online retailers have a field for entering a coupon code during the checkout process, and hundreds of deal sites seek out and publish the latest codes for thrifty consumers. How did online shoppers become so code-obsessed and how can you take advantage of savvy e-couponing?

The Learning Curve

By most accounts, coupon codes have been around since the earliest days of e-commerce, with most online retail experts placing their genesis around the millenium. But it hasn’t been an easy road, as the sales and marketing professionals involved in the creation of coupons and discounts had to adjust to the very different realities of Internet marketing.

Traditional coupons are, in essence, predictable. If the marketing arm of a retailer puts a coupon in the local paper, they have a pretty good idea – based on circulation numbers and past redemption rates – how many coupons are going to be redeemed. That kind of predictability is crucial for a retailer that wants to make sure inventory levels can sustain demand, and it’s especially important if they want to control the loss they expect to take on the discount.

But when you replace those clip-out coupons with codes that can spread like wildfire over the Web, any sort of predictability goes out the window.

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