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You can save a load of money clipping coupons out of newspaper inserts, but you can save even more by adding digital coupons and other online shopping tools to the mix. One sign of how popular they've become: In 2018, Americans “clipped” 8.4 billion digital coupons, according to the analytics firm Kantar.
Here are five essential tools that will help you get the most value as you shop for holiday gifts — and anything else. Some are what are known as extensions (or plug-ins or add-ons) for the internet browser on your computer; others are apps for your smartphone or tablet.
If you've never tried, or heard of, browser extensions before, don't worry. They're super easy to use! Simply go to the listed websites, click a few times to install the add-ons, and soon they'll automatically start popping up when you shop online. They're all free, and I consider each to be best in class.
Best for: online coupons and price alerts
The JoinHoney.com browser extension literally automates your savings. When you check out at Amazon or any of 30,000 other websites, you just click on Apply Coupons in a pop-up box, and Honey will input coupon codes for you. Honey can alert you when a product's price drops and provide price histories on many items, perhaps helping you decide whether to buy now or hold out for later.
Best for: choosing what and where to buy
Fakespot.com site's browser extension is essential if you shop on Amazon, Walmart or any other e-retailer that offers products sold by third parties. The problem that the plug-in solves is that fake reviews are rampant on many retail sites, as are counterfeit products, including cosmetics, electronics and other merchandise that could pose health or safety risks. Fakespot flags both reviews and products it suspects to be bogus and gives letter grades to product reviews to help you avoid being duped by fake 4- and 5-star reviews. The app also gives you a summary of the most helpful reviews, saving you time and flagging items that are most likely duds.
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Best for: price comparisons
Here's how PriceBlink.com works: When you land on a product page on a retail site such as Target or Amazon, a yellow bar will pop up; click on Compare Prices and you'll get a list of prices for that item at other stores. According to Karl Quist, president of PriceBlink, the browser extension checks prices at 11,000 stores. There is no PriceBlink mobile app, so when I'm out shopping in stores, I use a different app, called ShopSavvy, to compare prices. Or I'll turn to the Amazon and eBay apps. (Tap the camera icon in each app's search bar and point your phone at an item's bar code to find competing prices.) Another option is to search for a product on google.com/shopping.
Best for: cash back
By using the Rakuten mobile app on your smartphone or its browser extension on your computer, you'll earn cash back when making qualifying online purchases at more than 3,500 merchants, including Macy's, Walgreens and Best Buy. Rakuten, formerly known as eBates, sends out a check in the mail quarterly, once you've racked up at least $5 in rewards. The reward you've earned may grow even bigger if you take it as a gift card instead. Deals also extend to services such as Lyft, Grubhub and DoorDash. Link your credit card to the smartphone app and you can also earn cash back on certain in-store purchases, plus 5 percent cash back on meals at more than 10,000 participating restaurants.
Best for: in-store coupons and sales
Add the RetailMeNot app plus Coupon Sherpa, to your phone before you head to the mall. When you're at Bed, Bath & Beyond or Michaels crafts store, or a wide selection of other stores and food chains, you can check both of these apps for coupons and sales; they'll supply you bar codes to be scanned at the register. Similar to Rakuten, RetailMeNot also features cash-back offers for both in-store and online purchases.
Lisa Lee Freeman, cohost of the Hot Shopping Tips podcast, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports and an investigative reporter for The Dr.Oz Show.