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Coupon apps save time, money

Savvy shoppers are putting their smartphones to good use and downloading apps that can save them money. CNET's Kara Tsuboi reports on the new popularity of coupon apps.

Old school.

Long gone are the days of clipping coupons from the weekly mailer. Sure, you can still find good deals there for your favorite products, but it's a time-consuming process that often feels futile since coupons expire so quickly. These days, more and more consumers are turning to smartphone apps to find savings on their regular shopping trips. Not only is it a more environmentally friendly way to shop and save, since there's no printing of paper, but users say it's convenient too, since we're never without our smartphones.

Consumers such as Elvira Gomez have jumped on board this digital trend. "I don't have to clip," says Gomez. "I don't have to cut, I don't have to remember to put them in my car or in my purse." A working mom of three girls in Northern California, Gomez turned to coupon clipping to save money during the economic downturn a few years ago. But soon after, the tedium forced her to stop. "You're spending more time clipping than you are really saving," she says. A friend recently suggested she try a new app called Ibotta, and her fervor and enthusiasm for coupons returned.

According to data from Nielsen and Booz & Co., of the 50 percent of U.S. consumers who own smartphones, a third are using their mobile technology in a grocery store. Usage covers everything from researching products, making lists, finding recipes, and of course, searching for deals. Startups like Ibotta are capitalizing on this trend and developing apps that are more interactive and engaging than a static coupon. "What we were looking for was a more fun, gamelike, elevated experience where shoppers could actually learn about their favorite products in a more voluntary way," says Ibotta CEO Bryan Leach.

Now playing: Watch this: Don't clip coupons, download apps instead

Leach explains how Ibotta works: "You can add credit to your account by watching videos, taking polls, and so forth. Then you go purchase the products in the store. Take a picture of your receipt using your phone. Based on the information on the receipt, we immediately send you cash to your account." That cash can then be deposited into a linked PayPal account straightaway, or donated to the United Way or one of 130,000 schools nationwide. There are several dozen coupon apps already on the market, but many of those reward users with points or credit instead of real money.

In the coming weeks, Ibotta will be releasing a new gamification feature to its app, allowing users to earn even more money by unlocking rewards through games and challenges. "There's never been a technology that combines those ideas of gamification and item level purchase in quite the same way," adds Leach. Users like Gomez seem to welcome this novel approach to a normally tedious task: "If something is fun, interactive, and easy, and it's valuable to my shopping experience, then I will try it."

Besides the convenience factor of finding savings through her smartphone, Gomez appreciates that she can now send her husband out on shopping trips, since the stigma of using paper coupons is no longer there. "He won't shop for me if I give him a bunch of coupons," she says. To Gomez, having an extra set of hands to help with weekly chores is already a savings in itself.