Now that you know the basic elements to using a coupon code online, we'll dig a little deeper into the process. While it's a simple concept — find a code, add an item to your cart, apply the code, and check out — many stores feature complicated checkout systems that can frustrate even seasoned shoppers.
How to Tell If the Discount Was Successfully Applied
Stores vary widely in how they handle promo codes in the checkout process. The best stores are up-front and clear about their codes. They apply the codes right away in the shopping cart, prominently display your discount, and may even provide the exact details of the coupon once you apply it.
If your particular purchase isn't eligible for the discount, some stores will help you find something that is eligible by noting the parameters. Many, but not all, stores will at least display a message explaining if your purchase is invalid or ineligible.
However, many retailers aren't as forthcoming; some stores will have you jump through a few hoops before you find out if the coupon will work for your order. You may have to go through the checkout process and enter all of your information, even your credit card number, before you can see if the coupon is valid. There are also cases where the store will appear to accept a coupon, but will show absolutely no information and no discount, like a coupon black hole.
Troubleshooting a Coupon That Isn't Working
A coupon code might not work for several reasons. Most common are restrictions and exemptions.
Even if a code appears to be general and apply to anything offered on the site, there will typically be at least a few exclusions. Unless specifically stated, coupons won't discount store gift cards or certain brands that are excluded because of manufacturer restrictions. Some coupons will exclude entire categories, such as sale and clearance items, or items with special pricing, such as "Deal of the Day" items. Free shipping coupons may exclude oversized or heavy items. At a few stores, exclusions can be so substantial that it's almost hard to find an item that the code does apply to.
If you see the coupon listed on the store's website, check for a "details" link with fine print that can provide insight into what items are eligible for the discount and what items aren't. These links can be found in a variety of places — on the homepage, on product pages, or in the cart after the code is applied — and it can save a lot of time to review this information to verify if your purchase is eligible before going through the checkout process. Alternatively, try Googling the coupon to find any restrictions.
If the store you are shopping at has a Marketplace, or other sellers listed on their site, coupons may not apply to these items. In most cases, coupons will only apply to items the store sells directly.
A code will also not work if it has already expired. Stores can discontinue codes before the expiration date they provide, or there may not be an exact expiration given, meaning the offer can end at any time.
Enter the Code Correctly
Be sure that you are typing or pasting the coupon code correctly. Most codes are in caps, and some are case-sensitive, so the code might not work if you enter it in lowercase. If you copy-and-paste the code, be sure there are no blank spaces before or after that could prompt an error message. And if the code is email-specific, you will need access to that email account.
Be Sure to Meet the Minimum
Many coupons have a minimum purchase. This means you have to spend a certain amount on eligible items before you can get the discount. The minimum only applies to the actual cost of the items in your order after any instant discounts and does not include extra costs like tax or shipping, when applicable. Again, you can sometimes get clues from the code itself.
Perhaps you found a code like "15OFF100" that, for some reason, appeared to be 15% off with no minimum where you found it, but isn't working for your $50 order. That "100" you see at the end of the code would likely indicate a $100 minimum. You can also try checking the store's website for details or doing an Internet search for the store name and the code to see if you can find more information on the requirements.
Once you've mastered these trouble-shooting skills, then you're ready to move on to Advanced Couponing, in which we teach you how to find coupons on your own.