Tale of the Clippings: The Changing Landscape of Coupon Sites

Coupon sites are in vogue these days. Traffic to the largest ones, which include those sites offering discount codes and printable coupons, is up 34% from this time last year, reaching just over 22.6 million deal-hungry shoppers last month.

These sites typically fall into two categories: those primarily offering manufacturer coupons (40¢ off Viva paper towels), and those primarily offering retailer-specific coupons (25% off your Target purchase). Considering how search drives traffic to these sites, retailer coupons are in higher demand. Of all searches containing the word "coupon," the share captured by retailer-coupon sites grew by 22% year-over-year in March, while manufacturer-coupon share shrank by 13%.

The fastest growing coupon site overall is RetailMeNot, with 6.3MM visitors in March after expanding 268% from twelve months ago — the sort of growth that makes any domain envious. Apart from a straight-forward interface (you can either view coupons by category or by merchant), its distinguishing feature is a user-supported rating system that attaches comments to each coupon. If a coupon code stops working, you are alerted by others.

Its growth may also be linked to a search-marketing strategy that is arguably more effective than those of its competitors. Top search terms the other top five sites use to drive search traffic are either the sites’ names or generic coupon words (e.g. coolsavings coupons, printable coupons); RetailMeNot optimizes its site for merchant-specific searches to attract online searchers (e.g. jcpenney coupons, gap coupons).

One measure of success for this strategy is the degree to which the site routes users to the specific retailer they sought in the first place. A comparison between the most common referred-to retailers and the most-searched merchant keywords suggests that this is frequently the case (the popular term "˜jcpenney coupons’ matches the frequently referred site jcp.com). And evidently, visitors are in-market for discounts from retailers of any stripe. Among the top coupon sections on RetailMeNot are not just Clothing and Food, but Travel, Baby and eBay. On the impulse to offer the most savings, coupon sites overall have broadened the scope beyond the usual grocery store coupon circular to attend to the demand of all bargain-hunters. And as the online coupon world continues to grow, you can expect all discount sites to compete for better innovations and user experience to connect consumers with deals.