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What Are Promo Codes?

Ecommerce is a huge industry -- and the pandemic has only helped push shoppers to the web. In 2020, U.S. consumers spent a collective $861.12 billion online, a 44% increase over the previous year. And though you probably contribute to a tiny portion of that spending, you might be wondering how to save a few bucks on your online orders. Enter: promotional codes.

These days, you don’t have to pay full price for items online. With the help of special savings codes -- and tools that can help you find them -- it’s easier than ever to score a discount. Here’s what you need to know about promotional codes and how to take advantage of them.

What Are Promotional Codes?

In the past, if you wanted to apply a special discount or sale price to an item you were buying, you’d have to clip a coupon and hand it over to the cashier when checking out. And you can often still do that when shopping in-person. However, that process doesn’t really work online.

That’s why businesses created promotional codes -- most commonly referred to as “promo codes,” or “discount codes.” These are strings of letters and/or numbers that you can enter when closing out your online shopping cart, which automatically apply discounts approved by the vendor.

The code may be a random string of alphanumeric characters, such as “CV5J-TH88-AN62.” Or it could be a phrase that references a specific promotion. Think: “WELCOME21” or “HAPPYBDAY.” Online retailers will often offer these codes for sitewide sales, such as 15% off the entire store or free shipping on orders over $50. In other cases, they may offer special codes to individuals who complete certain qualifying steps, such as signing up for emails or using a branded credit card to pay for an order. These codes also often expire after a set period of time.

Why Do Businesses Offer Promo Codes?

You might be wondering why a business would essentially give money away in the form of promotional codes. It’s really for the same reasons stores offer physical coupons or have sales.

Offering these special deals helps attract new customers, plus keep existing shoppers loyal to the brand. Promotional codes also encourage more spending per transaction. Think about it: You’re probably willing to spend more money overall if you’re getting a good deal or free shipping. Plus, providing discount codes for older merchandise can help clear it out faster and make room for new inventory. They’re a win-win for everyone involved (as long as you’re not going over your shopping budget, of course).

How To Find Promotional Codes For Your Purchases

At this point, there are millions of promo codes floating around the web, many of which have expired. Unless a website is actively advertising a site-wide promotion, you may not be aware that certain discounts exist. So how can you find promo and discount codes quickly and easily?

1. Use a coupon aggregator

One of the easiest ways to find and apply promo codes to your online purchases is by using a coupon aggregator. This is a website or tool that collects promo codes from around the web and makes it easy to find them all in one place.

CouponFollow, for instance, created a robust system to track online discount codes and surface them to consumers. All you have to do is search CouponFollow for the retailer you’re buying from to see a list of available deals. Below is an example of what comes up when you search for Target.

codes and online offers for target

CouponFollow will note how long it’s been since each code was last used, as well as whether a deal is “verified,” meaning TK. You can toggle the setting near the top of the page to show verified codes only.

2. Install a browser plugin (like Cently)

If you really want to streamline your shopping process, you can add a browser extension that automatically searches for and applies relevant discount codes each time you check out. The Cently browser extension is a great option, for example. On average, it finds a discount worth 40% to 50% off (or about $20 bucks).

Here’s how it works: Start by downloading the extension and adding it to your browser. Now when you shop online and get ready to check out, Cently will pop up in the upper righthand corner to let you know if potential savings are available.

browser plugin for cently

When you click on “Save Money,” Cently will then start scanning its database to find you promo codes for that retailer.

screenshot of cently testing codes

Finally, Cently will apply the best deal to your cart. If there aren’t any valid codes available, it will let you know you already have the best price.

screenshot of cently finding best price

3. Sign up for emails

If there are certain stores you love shopping from, consider signing up for their promotional emails. Often, stores will include limited-time promo codes in these emails so subscribers can be the first to know about special deals.

4. Check social media

Another way to stay on top of the latest promo codes for your favorite stores is to follow their business accounts on social media. Retailers regularly post ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, sharing discounts and promo codes you can use for added savings.

Pro tip: Social media influencers often get their own personal promo codes to share with followers -- find out which personalities rep your favorite brands and give them a follow, too.

5. Test out these tried-and-true promo codes

If you aren’t having any luck finding codes, you can try out a few that tend to work across various retailers.

For example, it’s common for retailers to offer promo codes to new members or email subscribers. And often, that code is the phrase “WELCOME” -- sometimes followed by a number like 10 or 15. It doesn’t hurt to try it out and see what happens.

Another common promo code: “TEST.” Likely, developers sometimes forget to make their test codes inactive once the site is ready. That means you get to save some cash (before they realize the mistake, anyway).

Give these seven common promo codes a shot to score additional savings. Happy shopping!

about the author

CouponFollow Team
CouponFollow Team
The CouponFollow content team produces content about top savings hacks, frugal tips, and in-depth research about the coupon industry.