Almost every place you shop online has a "promotional code" box at checkout -- but fewer than a quarter of shoppers use it. We asked the experts for their best advice on where and how to cash in.
By Lynn Andriani
Start With Your Wardrobe
David Weinrot, chief marketing officer at the coupon code site Tada!, says apparel is the top category for sitewide coupon codes (flowers and home goods are big, too), since there's so much inventory and retailers constantly need to make room for new items. Clothing is also where you'll find the biggest discounts, says Daniel Washburn, general manager of another coupon-code site, Coupon Mountain. While some sites broadcast a "25% off today only!" coupon code at the top of their home page, more use coupon sites (which get a commission of about 5 percent when you click on a code) to get the word out. There are a couple of tricks to finding these money-saving treasures, aside from searching for a store name with a term like "coupon" or "coupon code," says Sarah Jones, coupon editor at DealNews.com. For clothing, she searches the brand name and style name (e.g., "Michael Kors Chain Lace-Up Shirtdress") plus the word "coupon." Then she searches for coupons for stores that sell the item, to see what they are currently offering. The idea is to do a mix of general and specific searches to see what comes up.
Upgrade Your Electronics Piece by Piece
Tech retailers, such as TigerDirect and Newegg, release the most coupon codes, says Jones -- but you won't find 30 percent off everything sitewide with those retailers. Since the category has such small margins, stores can't afford to discount widely; instead, they offer codes that give heavy discounts for particular items. For the quickest results, Jones likes to search by model number (this works especially well for electronics and computers).
Shop At The Beginning Of The Month -- Or On A Monday
Most retailers release their codes onto sales channels at the beginning of the month, and the majority expire on the 15th or 30th. In particular, Weinrot says retailers that sell items that need replenishing -- such as vitamins, diapers and contact-lens solutions -- tend to release coupon codes early in the month, since they know that's when people tend to restock. You can look for codes throughout the month on Mondays, since many stores rotate new offers on a weekly basis, says Jones.
Do The Math
Prices vary widely: You might find that one store's price without a coupon might be better than another store's price with one. Also consider shipping costs. For instance, a store that has everyday free shipping may have a price that comes out lower with a 10-percent-off coupon than another store's 20-percent coupon with shipping charges added, says Jones. A general rule of thumb: For smaller purchases, take a free shipping code over a code for 10 percent off; for larger purchases, 10 percent (or more) off will probably save you more money than free shipping would.
Know Who Discounts
Some stores rarely or never offer coupon codes (Jones cites Walmart and Zappos as examples). But DealNews shared with us their list of the top 25 retailers, sorted by volume of published coupons in 2013:
13. Bath & Body Works
14. Discount Watch Store
17. Plum District
22. Saks Fifth Avenue
25. HP Home & Office Store