MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

July 16, 2013

Coupon apps may bring ethical issues

By Jill Cataldo
CTW Features

— There are many coupon apps for smartphone users to enjoy, but are all coupon apps safe and reliable? Not exactly. Anyone can create an app. Just because an app exists doesn’t mean the app is authorized by stores or manufacturers.

Several coupon apps are questionable from an ethical standpoint. I’m not going to name them, but I’ll describe their functionality. Consider whether or not these apps toe the line of couponing ethics — or worse, venture into potentially fraudulent territory.

App #1: This app uses a smartphone’s camera to photograph a manufacturer coupon, then decode the barcode, telling the user if the coupon is coded specifically for the size and type of product listed on the coupon, or if there’s some “wiggle room.” Example: A coupon states it is valid on a 16 ounce box of cereal, but decoding the barcode reveals it will also work on a 12-ounce box.

My thoughts:

I have to question the purpose behind this app. While it may not be illegal to decode a barcode, it’s toeing the line of ethics.

App #2: This app allows users to photograph a paper coupon, and the app stores the barcode. Then, you can share the coupon with other people using the app. Search for coupons issued by your favorite companies, and when you find one you’d like to use, show the barcode image on your phone to your cashier.

My thoughts:

Taking a photograph of a coupon and presenting it to the cashier is akin to making a photocopy of a coupon and trying to get the cashier to accept it — that’s a form of counterfeiting and coupon fraud. Allowing users to then share these images of coupons with each other is problematic.

So which coupon apps would I recommend? Here are a few:

Grocery IQ: Created by Coupons.com, Grocery IQ is a shopping list planning app. You can create shopping lists by using your phone to scan the barcodes of product packaging that you’ve already got, and that item will be added to your list.

Shopper: Shopper is another popular grocery list planning app. It allows you to scan product barcodes and add them to the list. You also can group your lists by store, and I like its auto-fill functionality.