Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Search Insider: Searchers Don't Pay Retail

Searchers Don't Pay Retail

It's no secret that Google isn't the best search engine for everything. We saw that in recent explorations of live search and bathroom search engines. Another such area is finding coupons.

Google's a great place to find coupon sites, but then you have to sort through the clutter. I tried a search on "kodak coupons," and it's dizzying trying to figure out if and how you can get 20%, 30%, 35%, or 45%  off at KodakGallery.com, as the headlines of search ads indicate. Some sites we'll look at today make searching for coupons much more manageable.

Google Trends shows that the volume of searches for coupons so far this year is twice as high as in early 2008. The AdWords keyword tool reports that the top 10 coupon terms attracted 46.5 million Google searches in March 2009 alone, with "coupons" and "coupon" accounting for 37 million combined (the others, in order, are: coupon code, printable coupons, coupon codes, free coupons, grocery coupons, coupons.com, online coupons, printable coupon).

Analytics firm Compete's blog reported that visitors to top coupon sites are up an average of 170% from March 2008 to March 2009. The blog distinguishes between two categories, "those primarily offering manufacturer coupons (40¢ off Viva paper towels), and those primarily offering retailer-specific coupons (25% off your Target purchase)." It then notes, "Of all searches containing the word ‘coupon,' the share captured by retailer-coupon sites grew by 30% year-over-year in March, while manufacturer-coupon share shrank by 11%."

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Compete singles out some of these retailer coupon sites, including RetailMeNot, the fastest growing coupon site among the top five in the category. It's one of my favorite sites, one I go to before completing most of my online purchases. Please don't ask me why (I swear I'm doing alright during this economic crisis), but I recently ordered prints from Snapfish valued at 72 cents and went on RetailMeNot, where I found a code to save 14 cents off my order. It's addictive. And heck, if I'm going to rank all my habits, this is one of the better ones, right behind calling Grandmom.

What's so brilliant about the site is its perfect role at the end of the purchase funnel. When you have a sense of where you're considering buying something from, you can enter the Web site on RetailMeNot, and it will list all of the coupon codes. The coupons are ranked by how many other people used that code successfully, so the most reliable rise to the top while the duds drop out of view. In that sense, it's a massive time-saver as well as a mone- saver.

It hardly works for every site. Amazon rarely has any listings unless it's specifically promoting some service. And for some merchants, there's an error that appears that reads, "Sorry for the inconvenience but this merchant has specifically requested to have all user contributed coupons removed from the RetailMeNot system." From my experience, those retailers don't have coupons publicly available anyway, so it's not just RetailMeNot that's singled out.

Other sites are trying similar approaches. One I like is Tjoos, even if I can't always remember how to spell it. It's meant to be a play on "choose," but I can't tell you how many times I misspelled it when entering it into my browser.  According to Compete, Tjoos had about one-tenth of RetailMeNot's traffic in March, while growing three times as fast (off a much smaller base) over the past year.

The one twist Tjoos offers is that it has its own specialists who confirm that coupon codes work. Other coupon users can also contribute whether the coupons worked. As this column was written, Tjoos claimed to have 133,000 online stores, 20,000 verified coupons out of 165,000, and nearly 1,400 exclusive coupons. By comparison, RetailMeNot claims that over the past few years, its users have shared over 100,000 discounts at over 20,000 stores. The numbers aren't as important as whether the sites have current coupons for stores where consumers are shopping, and from the anecdotal tests I tried, they both perform admirably.

You'll find both Tjoos and RetailMeNot in Google when searching for discounts. Once you have a favorite way to seek a discount, though, Google's importance diminishes.

David Berkowitz is director of emerging media and client strategy at 360i. You can reach him at dberkowitz@360i.com, on Twitter at @dberkowitz, and through his blog at MarketersStudio.com.

Search Insider for Tuesday, April 14, 2009:

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