smart spending

Dialing cell phone for store coupons

Cellphone in hand
Highlights
  • Today's cell phones are capable of snagging coupons from retailers.
  • Several mobile applications help shoppers find the biggest discounts.
  • Retailers are finally catching up to shoppes on the mobile coupon craze.

Greg Grunberg loves store coupons, but he's found himself in this awkward situation way too many times. He bets you have too.

"My wife and I are in line at Bed Bath & Beyond and for the 100th time, we forgot the 20 percent off coupon," Grunberg says. "So we lose the discount."

What Grunberg did have in his pocket was his cell phone, and that's when inspiration struck and the idea for Yowza, the mobile coupon-saving iPhone application, was born. With Yowza, you type in the city or ZIP code where you shop, and up pops all the stores that have agreements with Yowza and any coupons they're offering. If you find one you like, you show your phone to the cashier at checkout time and the cashier scans the coupon pictured on your phone.

As the market for smart phones has taken off, so has the appetite of consumers to put the pricey gadgets to work as more than just mere e-mail-capable cell phones. Shoppers can now use their phones for everything from summoning up a coupon for a pair of jeans to scanning a price code on that new flat-screen TV.

"You always have your cell phone with you. Let's just harness that power to give shoppers a way to get deals," says Grunberg, an actor (he plays Matt Parkman on the NBC series "Heroes") and co-founder of Yowza in Los Angeles.

Not just iPhones and Blackberrys

Now, the iPhone, Blackberry and other mobile phones have dozens of shopping applications, with most either free to download or costing $1.99. Shoppers can not only get coupons and special deals on their phones, they can also comparison shop with the touch of a finger. Some can even scan bar codes.

Some are straightforward. MobiQpons, which is available for free for BlackBerry phones and iPhones, is a basic paperless coupon that uses the phone's GPS to determine which nearby stores offer deals. Others, such as Cellfire, can save coupons on your phone until you're ready to use them (or until they expire), or push them to your phone from coupon sites you find on the Web.

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Retailers are still trying to catch up with their cell-savvy shoppers. It's only been recently that smart phones have exploded with applications that are aimed at thrift-minded shoppers. Some store clerks do what they can to make it work in the checkout line. Others refuse to honor cell phone coupons.

"It's a habit thing. Right now, the idea of coupons on cell phones is in its infancy," says Luke Knowles, co-creator with brother Jesse Knowles of the coupon Web site Coupon Sherpa, which offers a free mobile application. "That's changing fast. Cashiers are getting used to scanning coupons that people printed at home. They'll soon get used to seeing the coupons on cell phones."

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