You know I love using coupons so when I heard about Hot Coupon World, www.hotcouponworld.com I had to check it out. For me, navigating the site was a bit like being the kid back the candy store again. You’ll definitely want to check it out and spend some time there. And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter. To help you get the most out of your first visit, co-founder Julie Parrish shares some secrets not only about Hot Coupon World, but being a couponer too.
Budget Smart Girl (BSG)-How did the site get started and how did you meet your other co-founder Heidi Kennedy?
Julie Parrish (JP)-Heidi and I met online at another deals website six years ago. We were members there and when that site closed the grocery section of its community, we landed on another site where we were moderators. Eventually, that site was sold. We were tired of bouncing around so I messaged her for her phone number and called her. We’d never spoken over the phone before and so she was a bit surprised when I said I think we should open our own site – by couponers, for couponers. So we agreed that I’d fund it and she’d manage it. We opened up with 176 members we’d been online with from previous sites, and in just a few years, we’ve registered over 120,000 people. To this day, nearly 6 years after “meeting” online, we still have yet to meet in person.
BSG-The Web site is great. If I’m a new visitor, where should I start?
JP-On the footer of every page are links to get started. There’s a link for those who are completely new that has a page with our most important forums. There’s also a link to all the abbreviations and acronyms one is going to encounter on the site. It’s a good idea to get in there and look through those so you don’t feel completely lost. There’s also a link about how to join the trader group on our site. That’s where all the fast and furious wheeling and dealing happens as people from across the country swap coupons with each other.
BSG-You have forums, groups, chats…some people are shy about chatting with complete strangers online. How can you encourage people to get involved online, what resources are they going to find in the forums and chat groups?
JP-First off, we have the friendliest forum on the web. Hopping into a social networking community can be downright cutthroat because if you’re new to a topic and you join a group, I’m always amazed at how many sites out there treat new people badly. My favorite expression on sites I’ve joined where I asked a “stupid” question is RTFM. Well, no one wants to be treated like that. You wouldn’t treat someone like that in person who asked you a question that might seem self-explanatory. The reality is, not everyone is going to come to the party with the same level of expertise. So we’ve really made it our policy that there are no stupid questions. The person asking doesn’t know that 100 other people have asked the same question. It’s new terrain to them and we should treat them as such. We encourage people to hop into our “welcome wagon” thread and introduce themselves. It’s not unusual for people to hop right in and welcome the new member. We also have an open door policy where people can email or private message us through the board. And you don’t get a form letter back. There’s a team of us that personally answer all the emails we get. We don’t like getting auto-responder emails when we need help so we want to make sure someone gets a real person on the other end.
Resources in the forums are vast. First there’s the deal info. A member will find the weekly sales circular from nearly every chain grocery store in the country are matched each week to all the manufacturer’s coupons so they know what the best deal going into the store each week is. There’s a coupon trading section where members swap coupons. So if you need coupons for dog food and someone else needs coupons for diapers and you each have what the other person wants, you swap them via postal mail so you get them in time for a sale. Multiple coupons mean multiplied savings. There are also recipes, a place to ask finance questions, online coupon codes, printable coupons, survey site signups and even a place to have off-topic conversations about life, kids, politics and more. Best of all, our members are really great about rallying around each other in times of need.
The chatting with strangers thing can be scary for some. We encourage our members to be safe about their user name, about giving personal information out, and limiting their interactions to just coupon talk if they aren’t comfortable with sharing more. Internet safety is a big deal to us.
BSG-You also have articles on the site. Can anyone share their tips?
JP-The articles section is a new feature for us. We have a few people contributing to them and we’d like to expand that. Truth be told, we’re not tech people or web designers so we’re struggling a bit to get the home page the way we want it, but at some point, when we do, we’re going to really open that wide up because when all’s said and done, we don’t have to have all the answers. Our members are such smart people. They have tons of their own tips, tricks and ideas that we’d be foolish not to give them a platform to share their knowledge with their peers online.
BSG-Any insider tricks for finding coupons, places most of us don’t think about looking?
JP-I love watching people shop because when they do, most of them walk by some of the best coupons you’ll find out there. It’s like shoppers are desensitized to the experience and they’re just there to get the mayo and milk and leave. I always encourage new couponers to walk around the store one time and put nothing in their cart. Walk through the store with fresh eyes and don’t look at the products themselves, look at the store set up. It’s like an optical illusion. Suddenly you don’t see the products – you see this sea of coupons. They’re attached the shelves. They’re attached to products. They’re hanging around the necks of bottles. They’re inside the freezer case. They’re in the little black blinkie boxes. They’re at the cash register, the customer service desk, and the paper racks at the front of the store. They’re on free standing displays and in the produce section and laying freestanding on shelves. I’ve even seen them taped to products hanging on strip clips (those little hanging clips that have products attached vertically on the ends of the aisles). And these coupons tend to sit there and expire because no one sees them. So walk through the store one time without buying anything and play “I spy” and you’ll be amazed how many coupons you find. They tend to be higher value than the Sunday paper, and they have longer expiration dates. But remember, take what you can use or trade and leave a few just in case for someone else who might figure out the hidden treasure hiding in the store.
BSG-Many coupons are found in the Sunday newspapers and women’s magazines, lots of people are dropping subscriptions to these publications. Is there a way to find those same coupons any place else?
JP-Sometimes the insert coupons can be found in the free version of the paper that goes out. So in our areas, once a week, all the store ads go out for free in a subset of the Oregonian. I find inserts in there. We have a lot of members on the site who have done everything from make deals with convenience stores to pick them up when the Sunday paper gets recycled, to “dumpster dive” in a recycle bin for multiple inserts. I’ve also seen people find extras from other people on Craigslist. I get them from family, friends, and neighbors. My husband’s grandmother even mails me hers from Rhode Island. Hotels are another good source because if they give out the local paper, on Sundays, they are just laying around the lobby because no one wants “the junk”. Starbucks and McDonalds – same theory applies. So I’ve had lots of luck there snagging extras that would otherwise get recycled.
And then printable coupons have come a long way. In our coupon database, we have tons of links to printable coupons and some of those are higher value than their printed counterparts that are in the Sunday paper.
BSG-More people are turning to coupons now. If you’re a beginner what tips can you offer them?
JP-Start slowly and don’t get overwhelmed. It’s easy to feel at first that you’re not making progress but it takes time to build an arsenal of coupons so that you can start matching the coupons to sales. Don’t chase every deal at once. Even though we match the deals and coupons for you and you can see what the deal is, pick one thing to chase in a given week and stockpile it. So, if toothpaste and peanut butter are both on sale, don’t kill yourself trying to get both. Pick the one that’s most important to building up a stock at home and chase that deal first. Then, if you have time left over before the sale ends, go get the other deal.
I would also say to slowly add rebates. Those can be overwhelming as well. You need to be really detail oriented with rebates because of the requirements to fulfill them (upc codes, receipts, forms) and the dates can come and go quickly for them. But once you’ve mastered deal hunting, rebates are good to add into the mix because there are lots of opportunities for good freebies.
And then ask questions. We want couponers to be legitimate about how they redeem coupons. There are lots of scams out there and it can be confusing. So don’t be afraid to ask. We’ll try to get you the right answer. Be sure to talk to your store managers at the stores you shop at and learn their coupon policies so you don’t run into issues in the checkout line. Nothing will turn off a new coupon shopper faster than having been made to feel embarrassed about using coupons. Be organized, be prepared, and get through the line quickly and you’ll do just fine.
BSG-You also have a site dedicated to organic and natural food coupons. www.organicgrocerydeals.com Did you get lots of requests for these products does it get more hits now? And are you seeing more organic manufacturers offering coupons?
JP-Organic manufacturers are well behind traditional manufacturers in their efforts to use coupons to market their products. I think there’s a thought out there among the organic manufacturers that they don’t have to use that as a discount strategy. In fact, a friend of mine is the food scientist for a very well-known producer and he was stunned when we talked couponing and why they should look at changing their marketing mix. It had never crossed their minds that their customers wouldn’t just walk up and pay full retail for the products. The problem is, about 10% of shoppers might be willing to do just that. But there’s 90% who need to be incented to try the products, and coupons do just that. There’s also a large part of the population that can’t afford to be 100% organic. So they are going to be even more inclined to buy and stick with a brand that uses coupons to discount the products. Lots of people want to go “green” but it’s expensive and many people have to choose what steps they make to go green. Our site is really designed for those people who are making incremental changes in their lives and don’t want to be judged because they still buy Fruit Loops. Organic Grocery Deals has been slower to take off, but it’s starting to increase in membership and page views because the information is very high quality, the members are non-judgmental, and we try to take a lot of the green-washing of organic and peel it away for folks to make educated decisions about what they’re buying.
BSG-Please feel free to add anything else about yourself, Heidi, the site/coupons or any other plans you have for the future.
JP-We’ve really been blessed both Heidi and I. We’ve been blessed in finding each other in the vast sea of people online. It’s like having a long lost sister. But we’ve also been blessed in learning how to coupon for our own families. I’ve saved and average of $11,000 per year over the past six years and that money really adds up. It lets us do things we wouldn’t have been able to do, including starting the websites.
As to plans for the future….
We’re working on building out our team. We’ve gotten to the point where two of us can’t manage this by ourselves and it’s time to bring on some help. Ultimately, the five-year plan is to have a network of sites dedicated to helping people economize their lives and save money. We want people to be smart with the resources they have. For us, that’s going to extend past coupon information into some other areas. We have a few other sites in the works right now. We’d really like to find a way to give back to our members as well, so there’s a project in beta right now that’s attempting to do just that. If it works like we hope it can, it will mean we can help monetize our members, which is going to be really exciting. We couldn’t ask for a better job than knowing that every day we get to help people change their lives by helping them be smarter shoppers.