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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Forget About Black Friday. Ever Considered Online Coupons?

Posted By on Thu, Nov 26, 2009 at 2:47 PM

It's a time of year when people's hearts and minds turn to shopping. No sooner has the Thanksgiving gravy cooled than Americans start thinking about tomorrow's ancillary holiday, Black Friday, when folks across the country wake early and jostle for position outside big-box retailers offering all kinds of stuff at special sale prices.


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​But not everybody salivates over the prospect of waiting in a block-long line outside Best Buy at 4 a.m. Some might prefer to flip open their laptops over some coffee and leftover pumpkin pie. If you count yourself in this crowd, Loren Bendele wants to recruit you.

Bendele is CEO of savings.com, a social-media Web site devoted exclusively to consumer deals -- online coupons, if you will. This week, SF Weekly caught up via telephone with Bendele, who earlier this month hosted a conference on consumer habits in San Francisco, to learn what he makes of how the economic downturn is shaping our nation's profligate shopping habits.

So, first off -- online coupons? Really? Can this idea be the basis of a successful dot-com venture, particularly in this slumping economy? But Bendele, 37, says that, like the repo man, he's actually done better through the current financial crisis. This year to date, he says savings.com has grown 200 percent. As people try to save their dwindling supplies of cash, he argues, they've taken up the coupon-clipping penchant of their grandparents. Now they just do it online.

"During World War II, when consumers learned new ways of saving money and they had to be tight, those were habits that lasted for decades to come," Bendele said. "Our generation are learning behaviors now that will be with them for years to come. This has been a drastic shift in consumer behavior."

Savings.com follows the Web 2.0 model of a big popularity contest -- users pick which deals or coupons get boosted to the top of the page for others to see first. This consumer-driven sensibility is one advantage of the site, Bendele says. 

Another is the relatively low time commitment. "It takes 10 or 15 seconds to find whatever I'm looking for" on the site, Bendele says. Think about those forlorn souls who will be waiting outside Wal-Mart in the purgatorial darkness tomorrow morning (not to mention the luckless employee who was trampled to death by such a crowd at the store's Green Acres branch on Long Island last year) and you can see how savings.com just might have some appeal.

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Peter Jamison

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