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 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.