There are many coupon apps for smartphone users to enjoy, but are all coupon apps safe and reliable? Not exactly. Anyone can create an app, and just because an app exists or is popular doesn’t mean the app is authorized by stores or manufacturers.
I’m aware of several coupon apps that are questionable from an ethical standpoint. I’m not going to name them in this column, but I’ll describe their functionality to you. As you read, consider whether or not these apps toe the line of couponing ethics — or worse, venture into potentially fraudulent territory.
App #1: This app uses a smartphone’s camera to photograph a manufacturer coupon, then decode the barcode, telling the user if the coupon is coded specifically for the size and type of product listed on the coupon, or if there’s some “wiggle room.” Example: A coupon states it is valid on a 16-ounce box of cereal, but decoding the barcode reveals it will also work on a 12-ounce box.
I have to question the purpose behind this app. It’s a higher-tech form of the old “barcode decoding” that some shoppers used to do — figuring out which numbers in a barcode translated to a product’s purchase requirements and discount value. As barcodes have become more complex, you can’t simply look at a barcode and figure out those values visually. So, while it may not be illegal to decode a barcode, it’s toeing the line of ethics.
App #2: This app allows users to photograph a paper coupon, and the app stores the barcode. Then, you can share the coupon with thousands of other people using the app. Search for coupons issued by your favorite companies, and when you find one you’d like to use, show the barcode image on your phone to your cashier.
Taking a photograph of a coupon and presenting it to the cashier is akin to making a photocopy of a coupon and trying to get the cashier to accept it — that’s a form of counterfeiting and coupon fraud. Allowing users to then share these images of coupons with each other is problematic as well. As I looked at this particular app, I saw a postcard offering one free clothing item, which had been mailed to a shopper. The shopper is supposed to hand in the postcard to receive the free item. Yet, images of those postcards were being shared to everyone using the app. Cashiers should certainly question the validity of these coupons.
So which coupon apps would I recommend? Here are a few:
Grocery IQ: Created by Coupons.com, Grocery IQ is a shopping list planning app. You can create your own shopping lists by using your phone to scan the barcodes of product packaging that you’ve already got, and that item will be added to your list. If your store participates in load-to-card functionality for Coupons.com offers, the app can integrate them with your list.
Shopper: Shopper is another popular grocery list planning app. It too allows you to scan product barcodes and add them to the list. You also can group your lists by store, and I like its auto-fill functionality when you begin typing the name of an item you wish to add to the list. You also can access the flyers from your local stores via the app.
Ibotta: Ibotta is a payback shopping app. Load offers before you go to the store, and after you shop, take a photo of your receipt with the app and upload it. Within 24 hours, your account is credited with the value of the offers you chose.
Endorse: Another payback shopping app. Load percentage-off offers before you head to the store, then upload a photo of your receipt when you get home. I’ve seen percent off deals ranging in value from 10 percent off up to 100 percent off, which equals a free item!
Smart Living Tip: Use your judgment when downloading coupon apps. If an app doesn’t seem to be on the level, again understand that anyone can create an app for just about any purpose. Read app reviews and utilize apps offered by trusted companies and vendors.
Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor and mother of three.