08 Jun

Written by Kathryn Vercillo on June 8, 2009

Many people who are first learning about the use of promotional codes for saving money when shopping online will naturally equate the promo code with a standard coupon. In many ways, online discount codes are very much the same as the coupons that we have long been clipping and storing away in our organizers for use at local stores. However, there are some notable differences between promo codes and coupons which are important to understand if you want to make sure that you are truly knowledgeable about these different methods of saving money. Moreover, it is important to understand how recent changes in technology are blurring the line between discount codes and coupons so that their differences are less and less important as time goes on.

Basic Similarities Between Promo Codes and Coupons

There are definitely some basic similarities between discount codes and coupons that put them in the same general category of money saving tools. Both are used to obtain a certain discount at the time of purchase for an item. That discount may be a percentage off of the total price, a specific dollar amount reduced from the price or some sort of deal such as a two-for-one purchase. The purpose of both promo codes and coupons is for advertisers to entice you to purchase their product by offering a deal that allows you to get that product at some sort of reduced price. In this way, discount codes and coupons are the same.

Physical Difference Between Promo Codes and Coupons

The major difference between promo codes and coupons is the physical difference between them. Coupons are physical pieces of paper that have the deal written on them whereas promo codes are simply numbers or letters that you can obtain from anywhere and then input in to an online form to receive your discount. Promo codes may be used to actually print out coupons from the Internet – you enter the code to get the coupon and then print the coupon out for use in the store.

Here’s a look at some of the implications of the physical differences between promo codes and coupons:

• Promo codes are generally considered the greener option. Printing out coupons requires ink and paper whereas discount codes don’t require any printer so eco-conscious money savers tend to prefer promotional codes over coupons.
• Coupons can get lost. Most people don’t lose discount codes (although it’s true that you can lose the online page you bookmarked with the code) whereas physical coupons can easily be misplaced.
• Different organizational styles. Many people have physical file folders in which they store their coupons for use at different stores. They have an entire system for optimal organization of the discount codes which allows them to clearly see which discounts can be used when and where. This allows them to get the most out of their coupons. Some people find that they don’t get as much use out of online promo codes because they can’t be organized in the same way. However, other people find that they organize things better in an online format and therefore get more use out of promo codes.
• Ease of searching for discount codes. Physical coupons may be found in magazines, newspapers, circulars or mailed advertisements. To find the coupon that you want to use, you have to search through all of these things. In contrast, the online format of promo codes makes it easy to search by keyword to find the codes that you want.
• Immediacy of discount codes. Because of this online search function, it is possible to always find a discount code before making any online purchase. The same is not true of physical coupons when you’re at the checkout stand of a store. You may therefore save more money with online codes.
 Impulse buying may be greater with discount codes. A drawback to the immediate availability of promo codes is that it can cause impulse buying to be significantly more common than it is with coupons. You may see a coupon in a magazine and decide that you want the product but by the time you clip it out, get to the store and see the product, you could have realized that you didn’t need it after all. The same is not true with online shopping where you may see a discount code and feel the need to make an immediate purchase for something you don’t actually have to have.
• Appeal of advertising. Many people are more drawn to using coupons because they are physically appealing. Coupon codes are often shown as just text which may not entice you to pay attention to the coupons. However, the online format does allow for the potential to create interesting interactive discount codes so the future of promo codes could make them more appealing.
• Social sharing aspect of discount codes. One of the cool things about promo codes is that they are shared in an online format. Many discount code sites let you post promo codes that you find so that others can use them as well. Deals and discounts may be discussed in forums and blogs on these sites. There’s an entire community built up around these codes. This isn’t necessarily the same with physical coupons which can’t be shared between users in the same way.

Technology of Discount Codes

Although the differences between discount codes and coupons can be important, the line between these two different methods of getting a discount on items is being blurred because of today’s technology. A great example of this is the increasing use of mobile coupons. These are coupons or discount codes that are stored in a mobile phone which can then be scanned and used when shopping in physical stores. The discount code itself is much more similar to that of online promo codes than to a traditional coupon but the fact that it’s used inside of a regular store means that it is a lot like a coupon after all. This points to the fact that our online and offline worlds are beginning to merge together. As this happens, there will be less distinction between discount codes and coupons and we’ll be able to seamlessly switch from using one to the other in order to maximize our savings at all times.

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