Holiday shopping with Mr. Cheap

I remember writing stories last holiday season about how e-commerce was hitting record numbers, that Black Friday was a killer, Cyber Monday was even better, and there were a couple other days leading up to Christmas that were just off the charts. And how amazing it was that all of this was happening amid a “worsening economic outlook.”

Seems almost quaint, given all that’s happened this year.

Of course, when you look at aggregate sales, e-commerce is pretty well positioned to continue to post impressive year-over-year gains, given that that mode of shopping is still just knocking on the door of mainstream.

So more people are going to buy things online this year than last, and that’s likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The more interesting question might be how their shopping habits will change, given the ongoing economic unpleasantness.

This year has seen a handful of progressively worsening assessments about how the e-commerce market is holding up. The consensus seems that it’s better than brick-and-mortar retail, but it ain’t great. (Unless you’re Amazon.)

But isn’t there opportunity in hardship? Certainly the folks pedaling online coupons seem to think so.

One coupon company, RetailMeNot, just commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a study to learn about people’s shopping plans this holiday season.

Just over half of consumers polled said they to modify their online shopping habits this holiday season. Of those, 90 percent will spend less money. So one could surmise that discounts and coupons could be even more important this year as e-tailers court a cash-strapped consumer base.

That a survey commissioned by an online coupon company predicts an uptick in online coupon use is not surprising. However, leaving RetailMeNot’s interests of self-promotion aside, it’s an intuitive conclusion: at a time when people have less disposable income, they’re going to be looking to save money any way they can while doing their holiday shopping — online or off.

And RetailMeNot is worth a mention in its own right. The site is set up as a coupon forum where people can search by Web site (e.g. for electronic discounts the merchant is offering. Included in the search results are the coupon codes, along with the percentage of users who were actually able to redeem them. (Given that all coupon codes are not redeemable in perpetuity, the site asks users to note whether the coupon worked by clicking on a check or an ‘x.’)

So you can imagine yourself getting ready to order a pizza, and you scan RetailMeNot to see if Dominos or Papa John’s has a better deal.

RetailMeNot collects coupons through user submissions and from companies looking to expand their customer base. The site says it has coupons from more than 20,000 stores.

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