Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene The Frugal Surfer

Online coupons replace cost cutters

By James Hanback Jr

MARCH 8, 1999:  Without taking a poll, and with a total disregard for the scientific gathering and interpretation of data, it's probably safe to say that most of us remember someone in our lives who spent Sunday afternoon with a newspaper and a pair of scissors, carefully clipping coupons for the weekly trip to the grocery store.

Some of us have maybe even carried that Sunday tradition over into our own lives, particularly in this time when people are being advised to become more careful about saving money. Thanks to greater interest in the stock market and mutual funds, a realization that social security may not be so secure, and the grandmotherly advice of financial counselors like syndicated radio talk show host Dave Ramsey, Americans seem to be once again turning their minds toward money management.

With that in mind, the latest Internet consumer trend that's attracting the attention of the big boys like America Online is the clipping of coupons not from the Sunday newspaper, but from the Internet. Last week, both America Online and Longs Drug Stores Corp. separately announced that they are joining the growing list of companies and Web sites which offer special online values to shoppers. They'll be attempting to cash in on what Web presences ValuPage ( http://www.valupage.com ) and Cool Savings ( http://www.coolsavings.com ) have already discovered: People like to save money, no matter where they have to go to do it. AOL's new venture is, in fact, a partnership with ValuPage.

So how does online coupon clipping work? Basically, there are three different methods. The first, which is used by ValuPage, consists of downloading coupons for Web Bucks, which you obtain on your trip to the grocery store. Type your Zip code into ValuPage's search form (that's the only information for which you will be asked) and you'll see a list of grocery stores in your area that participate in the ValuPage Web Bucks program. Click on the grocery store of your choice, and you'll see a list of that week's products for which you can receive Web Bucks. The Web Bucks can be redeemed on your next grocery bill.

The second method, used by online coupon stores like Cool Savings, is a little less cumbersome, but also less private. The user is first asked to become a "member," which entails giving up your name, address, gender, age, and e-mail address. Membership is free.

Once you're a member of Cool Savings, you may then select from a long list of stores and services to see what offers are available. Cool Savings usually provides online "in store" coupons for printing, as well as Web Only offers (for those shoppers who buy online). The site also offers more than grocery items. Shoppers can get savings on everything from flowers to toys, and from rental cars to airline tickets.

The third method of online coupon clipping is currently used by Cents Off ( http://www.centsoff.com ) and will soon be used by the Longs Drug Stores Corp. These coupons are selected and purchased online, then shipped to the user via the U.S. Post Office. This method takes longer than simply clipping the coupons out of the newspaper. It also costs more. A typical book of 50 coupons from Cents Off costs about $5.40 (plus a first time sign-up fee of $5).

The Cents Off method, however, does offer users a little less randomness on savings by allowing them to choose their own products rather than picking whatever product happens to be offered in the newspaper that week.

And so, frugal shoppers, those of you who have been spending your Sunday afternoons clipping coupons from the paper when you'd rather be surfing the Net can do both at the same time. A growing list of companies and Web presences that offer online coupons is available at www.coupondirectory.com. Of course, if you really want to save money, you could always print and clip.

The name game

Local Nashville Internet company Telalink announced last week that it has joined Network Solutions' Premier Domain Registration Service program. That means the company will receive "enhanced access" to Network Solutions' domain name registration services for .com, .net, and .org names. The invitation to participate in the Premier program came as a result of the large number of domain registrations Telalink has produced for its customers.

The Premier service allows the processing of new registrations and modification updates within one business day, global updates within two business days, and around-the-clock account services, according to Telalink.

Buggy browsers

Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer have had their fair share of bugs and security holes revealed over the past year. Now it appears that Vanderbilt University math student Bennett Haselton has discovered another one for Communicator.

The hole is demonstrated at www.peacefire.org/readfile/. (Peacefire is the organization Haselton formed to combat Internet censorship, as reported in the Nov. 5 Scene.)

Haselton's exploit circumvents file upload security by asking the user to type a specific phrase. The code then strips out the extra characters in the phrase to spell the path to a Windows system file, after which the file is uploaded to the Web site.

Haselton also made news recently after discovering a hole in Microsoft's Hotmail Web e-mail service.

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