Devilish bargains

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Marketers are deploying increasingly sophisticated tactics to court profitable customers and shun unprofitable ones-but the Internet is giving fervent bargain seekers powerful tools of their own.

At, people decode what the bar codes on coupons really mean and discuss how to use "buy-one, get-one-free coupons" to get one free without buying one or how to redeem $5 and $7 coupons intended for products priced $25 and up to get cheaper goods free. Elsewhere in the Internet's virtual bargain bazaar, an anonymous visitor to regularly posts pages from the Walgreens circular two weeks in advance.

Deal and coupon sites have been growing rapidly-with visitors to such sites, as measured by ComScore Media Metrix, up 29.4% in December to more than 22 million, compared to 5.9% growth in all Web traffic. The proportion of users who visit coupon and deal sites rose 2.5 points to 13.8% in December from a year ago.

Two years ago, Wal-Mart Stores and Best Buy unsuccessfully tried suing some deal sites, such as, to keep them from posting circulars under intellectual-property statutes. And Coupon Information Corp., a consortium of package-goods marketers who distribute coupons, has sent letters to the operator of Dealideal threatening: "those who aid and abet these criminal activities may be subject to both criminal and civil prosecution."

So far, however, litigation hasn't been forthcoming, said Leo Gartsbeyn, operator of Dealideal, in an e-mail exchange. He argues that there's nothing illegal about consumers taking full advantage of deals gleaned from coupon codes. Dealideal members trade tips on which retailers and cashiers go easiest on aggressive coupon redemption (think young, male and inattentive), and how many coupons they can run through self-scanning checkouts before managers come snooping. Wal-Mart and Target are among visitors' favorite marks.

Ironically, Dealideal gets some revenue from affiliate-marketing relationships with online retailers-including and give it a cut of what visitors linking from Dealideal spend. A spokeswoman for declined to comment, and Target did not return calls.

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