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Who among us hasn’t used a coupon to get a free cup of coffee or appetizer with their meal, or perhaps a discount on purchases at a store? It's also likely you've experienced that dreadful moment of realizing you're standing in line behind the obsessive coupon collector who has a clipping for everything in their heaping-full cart.

Retailers and marketers have long recognized that everyone wants to feel they’re getting a bargain (and some of us want to get a deal on everything!). But it’s pretty hard to feed a traditional paper coupon into an online retailer’s cash register. This has led to the creation of the online coupon code (also known as the promo code, discount code, voucher code, et cetera). With the online shopping holiday Cyber Monday right around the corner (November 26), cluing in to how online coupons work can save you big bucks.

Why the Savings?

Don’t fool yourselves; the stores aren’t doing it just because they like you. The reasons for issuing coupons range from clearing out overstocked or discontinued items to acting as a loss leader to get consumers in the store where they’ll buy more. In the online world, the retailers can also use the codes for some very narrowly focused marketing data collection.

While some codes are straightforwardly simple (“free shipping”), those complicated ones with all the numbers and letters allow retailers to track everything from precisely when and where you got the code, to how long it took you to use it. (They also allow the retailer to prevent duplicate usage.)

Sources For Digital Discounts

iTunes and Starbucks: Whether it’s movies, music or apps, Apple’s iTunes Store has become the online retailer of choice for millions of people around the world. (In fact, in March 2012 Apple announced that a user had downloaded the 25 billionth app from the store alone.) And millions of us also start our day with a visit to Starbucks. So it should come as no surprise to see the racks of credit card sized coupons prominently displayed at the retailers’ cash registers. The cards, which change every week, have a code on the back for a free song, show, or app.

Deals Galore

You know all those sites you visit to download and print off coupons to take to brick-and-mortar stores? They have coupon codes as well.

Here are a few of our favourites:

Happy online shopping!

Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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