At Coupons.com and its affiliated sites, each user's computer is issued a randomly assigned serial number. "That way, our network knows not to print the coupon again," Boal says.
The software doesn't collect any personally identifiable information or track the user's surfing habits, he says. The only information retailers or manufacturers receive is whatever data consumers choose to share if they register. In addition, coupons won't bear individual tracking numbers unless consumers actually register with a site.
Indeed, the coupon council's Brown says consumer tracking can have an upside. "It's good to let them know who you are so that they can give you more offers," he says.
These days, many shoppers are balancing the notion that their savings through loyalty cards, which give consumers special markdowns from retailers, and other discount programs come with a price.They must share shopping information with retailers and manufacturers.
"People have to reconcile the fact that they watch your shopping habits, and where that might lead," Howard says.
Overall, she is satisfied with the bargain. Howard recently subscribed online to a drugstore loyalty program. In addition to coupons, a recent $70 shopping trip netted her $21 off of her next trip and a free eight-pack of antacid.
Wilson says he understands why clippers like Howard keep coming back. "You get hooked," he says. "It's very hard to walk into a store and pay full price when you realize you shouldn't have to."