Do you remember a time when it was embarrassing to hand a waiter a voucher when paying the bill? A time when you shopped online without googling money-off deals first? Now, many of us would not dream of visiting a Pizza Express or Zizzi without a check for 241 coupons first.
One pizza voucher is downloaded every five seconds in the UK — and it is not just students, penny-pinchers or Martin Lewis at it. Two thirds of higher-rate taxpayers have downloaded at least one money-saving voucher, according to research by Vouchercodes.co.uk, with one in five of those earning between £50,000 and £60,000 a year visiting a voucher website at least once a week.
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Six million people are signed up to Vouchercodes.co.uk’s weekly discount e-mail. Millions more to Groupon, or Wowcher, Hotukdeals.com and Vouchercloud. You name it, you can find a discount for it. From doughballs to eye cream, even eye surgery, from spa sessions to your Sainsbury’s shop.
The combination of a recession and a growing comfort with online shopping and smartphone apps has meant that it is more important and yet easier than ever to make sure we get the best deal we can on our eating, drinking and shopping habits. And this phenomenon is growing. Since its launch in 2008, Vouchercodes.co.uk says that the use of online discounts has risen year on year by 40 per cent, with website traffic increasing by 228 per cent in the past 12 months alone.
According to Duncan Jennings, a co-founder of VoucherCodes.co.uk: “That higher earners, the self-employed and older shoppers are all turning to online discounts shows that the recession has left no one ‘untouchable’. Everyone is watching their pennies in the present financial climate and most consumers are taking full advantage of any opportunity to save money.
“The credit crunch has made consumers less judgmental about embracing money-saving measures. They don’t just want to shop with a discount, they expect to.”
The younger generation are leading the way. Luke Mitchell, of Studentbeans.com, the discount website for 16 to 24-year-olds, says: “Today’s students don’t appreciate a discount, they expect one, with most viewing a brand more positively when they see a discount offered, rather than thinking it makes a brand look cheap. For young people today, discounts and vouchers have become an integral part of the shopping experience. Before buying, whether online or offline, they will habitually check for offers.”
Quidco, founded in 2005 by two students from Sheffield, has 2.5 million members and returned £45 million of cash back last year to its members. Research by the site found that 89 per cent of us feel comfortable using vouchers and money-off coupons, compared with 38 per cent before the slump.
Topcashback.com has 1.7 million members, a number that has doubled in the past 18 months. Its success, says Natasha Rachel Smith, a consumer affairs expert for the site, is down to a combination of consumer education (we are all getting more savvy about how we can save money when we shop online) and businesses having to evolve to stay afloat, finding any way they can to encourage customers into their stores.
But where to find the best deals? With such an appetite for discounts, thousands of websites and companies have sprung up all over the web, some of which are trying to rip us off. There are four main types of sites:
Codes and coupons
The ones with the matching names — your vouchercodes.co.uk, Vouchercodes.com, myvouchercodes.co.uk, netvouchercodes.co.uk — amalgamate discount codes and coupons for thousands of retailers.
Many of the sites will have exclusive deals — say 241 restaurant vouchers or money off certain shops, as well as listing sales that retailers are advertising in store or online.
For example, if you search Boots on Vouchercodes.co.uk you will see a list of exclusive voucher deals, such as get £15 off any orders above £100 at Boots, and then a list of deals that Boots is offering in-store, for example, up to 50 per cent off fragrances.
The deals update daily — Vouchercodes.co.uk says it posts up to 6,000 unique codes every three months, even more over the festive season, and hundreds of sale deals go online each day.
The best way to get good deals is to sign up to the website’s or a weekly newsletter that highlights offers. You can also download an app, such as Vouchercloud, so wherever you are eating or shopping you can check there and then whether you can get a discount off your bill.
Be warned: there are plenty of dodgy sites out there. Reputable sites will only post deals that are available and mark clearly when the deals expire and any terms and conditions, such as the days of the week, that you can use a restaurant voucher.
These are straightforward sites that post cheap deals or sales, from fashion and beauty to holidays and electrical items. Wahanda.com lists discounts of up to 50 per cent for spas, hairdressers, gyms and yoga holidays. You can search by postcode for deals in your area.
Websites such as the Outnet.com, a discount offshoot of Netaporter.com, sells end-of-line designer clothes and accessories with huge reductions. The site also runs flash promotions and weekend sales that run for 72 hours, starting on a Friday morning. If you sign up to the site’s e-mail updates, you are alerted to any extra promotions.
Then there are member-only sale sites. Cocosa.com offers time-limited discount sales of fashion and homeware for those signed up, with a £20 gift voucher incentive when you recom-mend the site to friends. The sales run for a few days, with e-mails notifying users when the sales begin and end.
Achica.com is a members-only lifestyle website, although you can access it simply by signing up. It runs 48-hour flash sales on designer homeware, furniture and holidays.
Group buying sites
The idea behind group buying sites is that the websites attract great discounts and deals from local businesses in return for guaranteeing that a certain number of consumers will sign up to them.
The most popular site is Groupon, which offers daily deals on days out or holidays, local spas and hairdressers. Other sites include Wowcher and Living Social, which offers much the same but with deals that the site has negotiated exclusively.
While these sites can offer great bargains, they are also to be approached with caution. There have been horror stories about small businesses going bust from selling too many vouchers and others being so overwhelmed by demand that those who buy vouchers cannot book in a time to use them. It is also important to read the small print: many of the deals are available only on certain days or at certain times. Holidays and restaurant deals are quite often not available over a weekend, for example.
Cashback sites are like back-to-front voucher sites, giving you the discount after you have shopped in the form of a cash reimbursement. Sites such as Topcashback and Quidco link to thousands of retailers, ebay, Tesco, Asda and energy suppliers such as npower.
If you click through to these sites via a cashback site, the cashback site earns revenue, which it uses to offer its customers money off between 4 and 12 per cent of the price of your shop. If you are a regular online shopper, it is almost always worth using a cashback site, but make sure that you do your sums. You might be able to get more money off by buying a product elsewhere.
Topcashback is free to join, Quidco deducts £5 a year from your earnings. As well as online cashback, Quidco has a free mobile app that lets you claim cashback on in-store purchases at participating high street stores.