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Deals Are the New Clickbait: How Instagram Made Extreme Couponers of Us All
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Discount applies to packing services only. Since she began building her brand, Miller now enjoys the added benefit of online attention whenever she scores a good deal. And that attention has translated into sponsorship opportunities and ad revenue. Cashback companies like Ebates and CoinOut have recently inquired about partnerships. Over complimentary wraps at her Mercedes dealership—in which she also got a free car wash and chatted with an attendant about local shooting ranges—she pulled up the app on her phone and showed me her latest stats.
Historically, the couponing community has always discussed their habits in relation to the American Dream: better credit, savings, the ability to buy a car or house. During the presidential campaign, those conversations veered into politics. She frequently receives heartfelt messages from her followers explaining how her tips saved their families.
But her tendency to spend too much money on discounted merchandise en masse has caused others to unfollow her. Inmar has seen a dip in the redemption of their paper offerings, but that dip is not because consumers simply find digital coupons more convenient. Food companies are offering fewer paper coupons because instructional sites have led to their overuse. The fact that manufacturers are offering fewer major deals—combined with the fact that couponing has become more widespread—has put a damper on the couponing community.
They started slowly changing all the different policies. Now this. Those who have been hit the hardest by this shift are budget shoppers like thecouponchic, a Detroit-based Instagram user who prefers not to use her real name. She began couponing in after learning about it on Instagram. The Detroit-based couponer is happy to share her knowledge, but lately the shortage of merchandise is apparent. But I still want to be able to get in on the action too.
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What was once a budgeting aid is now becoming a pay-to-play game, and the more resources a couponer has, the better chance they have at pocketing significant savings. Influencers and bloggers who identify deals for a living have the added benefit of attracting clients.
We just blew our entire budget. In other cases, deal-hunters are simply advertising for brands. They hand-feed us a lot of these deals as well. Just like with an ad. The Black Friday ads are always leaked, always given out early to us so we can prepare our day accordingly for these deals.
As the more extreme deals have become less frequent, many couponers have turned to deal-saving techniques that sometimes approach fraud. I honestly believe that sometimes these stores do that on purpose for promotional purposes.
Coupon clearing houses like Inmar also recognize that the future of their industry depends on social media. With it came a platform of 8, registered vetted social influencers—since expanded to 11,—who they use to amplify, promote, and distribute sales. In some cases the company might handpick a few who can offer a compelling narrative for why they use product. The company is currently rolling out a system where influencers can access an internal platform of active deals and discounts and choose those that fit best on their channels. For example, Tuesdays are generally speaking the most popular days to engage with offers that are shared by influencers, according to Mirian.
Demer believes the shift toward individual influencers has affected her own company. The Krazy Coupon Lady website has stagnated to about 20 million views per month, while its app is experiencing more rapid growth and currently garners about 30 million views a month. As manufacturers shift away from print coupons, they have looked to influencers and app-based reward systems to fill the void.
But digital savings programs often come with a catch: giving up personal data. Companies like Earny and Paribus, for instance, offer services that exploit little-known price protection policies offered by major credit card companies and major retailers like Amazon or Best Buy. These companies run scripts through your email, credit card purchasing history, and Amazon account to identify and monitor purchases.
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If a price is lowered within the given time period, the program will automatically send an email on your behalf to the retailer, requesting the discounted price. To fund the operation, the app sells your receipt data to market researchers.
Jon Brelig, CTO of the company that owns Receipt Hog, says that acknowledging an exchange of data for points allows consumers to ultimately feel more in control. We will pay you for that data, right?
This new pattern, in which companies offer discounts in exchange for some kind of personal information, creates a dynamic that concerns Susan Grant, the director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America. Many of the couponers I spoke to for this story, however, were willing to share receipts or personal information with apps that consistently earned them major rebates on large grocery store and retail purchases. Those include Ibotta and Fetch Rewards, which ask shoppers to scan their purchase receipts to earn cash-back rebates on certain brands. As my day with Miller came to a close, we pulled up to our final destination: Walmart.
It had been a fruitful morning. In addition to our first haul, we had acquired six bags of Purina ONE dog food, six jars of Bertolli pasta sauce, eight packs of Hi-Chew candy, one bag of Dixie Crystals sugar, a package of TENA adult bladder-control pads, two bottles of Dr Pepper, six containers of Talenti ice cream, and a few packages of seasoned meat.
But first: the clearance aisle. She opened the Walmart app on her phone. As we strolled through she began pointing her phone at the yellow tags on the shelf, scanning bar codes like one of those beachcombers with a metal detector looking for lost jewelry. Then she paused to consider her options.
Though intrigued by a discounted motorcycle helmet, she thought it could still go lower in price, ditto for a Black Panther toy her nephew might like. But nothing moved her. Miller had told her to wait. What happened? After a tense back-and-forth, the clerk disappeared to continue the search in the storage room. Now I was witnessing the comedown. Consent to join Text Club not required to purchase goods or services.
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