A coupon code is a combination of letters and numbers that online merchants provide customers as a form of promotion. It is also called a promo code or discount code. When shopping online, you enter this code at checkout, and it activates discounts or offers.

Retailers offer coupon codes to encourage customers to purchase products or to reward loyalty to their business. Promo code discounts or offers range from a percentage off your total cost to free shipping, a flat discount, a buy-on-get-one-free deal, and more.

Key Takeaways

  • A coupon code, also known as a promo or discount code, is a combination of letters and numbers provided by online merchants as a promotional marketing strategy.
  • The codes work as digital vouchers, providing discounts or offers at the checkout of online shopping. They increase sales for the store and create savings for the customer.
  • Digital coupons come in various forms, including percentage-based discounts, flat discounts, buy-one-get-one-free, free shipping, loyalty rewards, time-limited offers, product-specific, limited quantity, referral, and sitewide discount coupons.
  • Find promo codes in promotional emails, newsletters, magazines, social media sites, or a business’s website. Dedicated websites and mobile apps also serve as databases for discount codes.
  • Coupon code websites, such as DontPayFull, RetailMeNot, and CouponCabin, aggregate thousands of online shopping promotions, simplifying access to these codes for shoppers.

Coupon Code Definition


Tip: A coupon code is a digital voucher. It works the same way that a traditional voucher, which you’d cut out from a magazine, works. However, instead of handing it in physically at a store, you just use the code during an online purchase to get the related offer. 

Coupon codes are a marketing strategy through which businesses incentivize people to purchase. The discount code will give you a better price or deal, making the transaction more favorable. The store gets more sales, and customers get to save money; it’s a win – win.

A Short History of Coupon Codes

Coupons date back to the 19th century, and they evolved in several phases:

  • Late 19th century: coupons originated in the US in 1887 when the co-founder of The Coca Cola Company, Asa Candler, decided to use handwritten tickets to promote free glasses of Coca-Cola.
  • Early and mid-20th century: coupons were used extensively during the Great Depression in the 1930s, as they helped families save money. Grocery stores, in particular, used coupons.
  • Late 20th century: with the rise of the Internet, coupons evolved into their digital form known as promo codes. They’ve been used as marketing tools by businesses since the 1990s. 
  • 21st century: due to e-commerce’s importance, dedicated websites now host various coupon codes. Many retailers also offer online coupons directly. Coupon mobile apps also exist, with the sole purpose of managing these codes.

The Most Common Types of Coupon Codes

Digital coupons have many forms, each offering unique savings. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. Percentage-based discount: a specific percentage off the total purchase price. For example, a 20% discount coupon code for your shopping cart. They’re particularly useful for high-price purchases, as the discount scales proportionately. 
  2. Flat discount: a set amount of money off, no matter how much you spend. For instance, a flat $10 off coupon reduces your total cost by $10, regardless of the sum. Generally, the total cost has to be higher than the value of the coupon; you can’t get the item(s) for free. This might translate as an “error” message when you try to use the coupon, but the value is smaller than the flat discount. Policies vary though, and some retailers may allow this practice. However, should you have remaining value on that coupon ($10 coupon for $4 products), you won’t get the remaining balance as store credit! Flat discount coupons are especially great for low-price purchases.  
  3. Buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO): get a free item when purchasing another. For example, a free eyeliner when you purchase a lipstick. BOGO offers are popular for clothing, household items, and groceries.
  4. Free shipping: free shipping coupon codes waive the cost of shipping. A minimum purchase is often required.
  5. Loyalty or rewards coupons: offered to customers with a certain number of purchases or a specific loyalty status.
  6. Time-limited offers: limited-time offer (LTO) coupons are only valid for a set timeframe, after which they expire. LTO coupons aren’t always removed from sources after expiration though. This can lead to customers finding offers that no longer work.
  7. Product-specific coupons: these promo codes can only be used on a specific product or category of products.
  8. Limited quantity coupons: only available for a limited number of uses. After reaching the limit, the limited coupon becomes invalid. The limitation is per customer, total uses across all customers, or per order (e.g: a BOGO offer that can apply to a maximum of 5 items in your order, even if 8 items have the offer available).
  9. Referral coupons: referral coupons are offered when a customer refers a friend or family member to the business. When the referred person creates an account or performs another specific action using the code or link that you send them, you receive the associated benefit(s).
  10. Sitewide discount coupons: applicable to all products that you can purchase from that website.

Where to Find Coupon Codes


Tip: Coupon codes are often found in emails, newsletters, magazines, or social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also search for a coupon code directly on a business’s website. Many retailers have either ongoing offers, seasonal offers, or both.

Access retailer websites and search for “coupon codes” or “promo codes” in the search bar. The search bar is typically at the top-middle of the screen or in either the top-left or top-right corner. If you’re on mobile, look for a magnifying glass icon and tap on it (it’s the search function).

Discount Codes Websites

Coupon code websites are a database of discount codes from various stores. Some coupon websites have 1,000+ or even 10,000+ vendors for which they have promo codes for countries from all around the world (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, etc).


Tip: Promo code businesses are also likely to have a coupon browser extension. This is a browser add-on that helps you find and apply discount codes more easily. When you add an item to your shopping cart on an eligible store, the extension can search the web for applicable coupon codes and save you money.

What Do Coupon Codes Look Like?

A promo code is an alphabetical, alphanumerical, or randomized string. It’s made from letters, numbers, or a combination. Sometimes, discount codes are straightforward, such as “SAVE10”. Other times, especially if it’s a code applied automatically at checkout, it might be randomized by a specialized algorithm and look something like “A72GUBO2824GK.”

  • Alphabetical code: easy to remember and indicative of the offer, such as  “SAVEBIG,” “HALFOFF,” “EARLYBIRD,” “NEWCUSTOMER,” etc.
  • Alphanumerical code: these combine letters and numbers to indicate promotions, such as “DISCOUNT15,” “PROMO20OFF,” “BUY1GET2”, “SHIPFREE100,” etc.
  • Randomized code: these don’t follow a specific pattern and have no special meaning. They are generated to be unique and secure, such as “F78JK6H2” or “3K9F75B8.”

Why Are Some Promo Codes Randomized?

While a code like “SAVE10” is much easier to remember and share with friends and family, businesses sometimes choose randomization for several reasons. Here are 4 of them:

  1. Prevent misuse: randomized codes help prevent misuse by making it harder for customers to guess and share them. Predictable or easy-to-guess codes risk being used more than intended by the company.
  2. Unique codes: some promotions depend on each code only being used once, like a one-time deal when you subscribe to a company’s newsletter. 
  3. Marketing metrics: randomized discount codes help businesses track their marketing efforts. Each code can be linked to a marketing campaign, allowing retailers to determine the most successful ones.
  4. Security: randomized codes add an extra layer of security, as they are harder to duplicate or forge.

How to Use a Coupon Code

Discount codes are entered in the promotional box at the checkout phase of online shopping. Using the code gives customers a better deal on their purchases. These are the general steps for using a discount code:

  1. Browse through the online store and add items to your shopping cart.
  2. Proceed to the checkout process.
  3. Enter the coupon code in the box labeled something like “promo code.” Use the code exactly as you received it, without spaces. Codes also tend to be case-sensitive.
  4. Confirm the discount by looking at your new total cost. If there’s no change, the code might be expired or not applicable to your shopping cart items.
  5. Fill in your payment details and complete the purchase.

Note: Many coupon codes have expiration dates or other restrictions. These can cause the code to stop working. Read the terms and conditions to ensure you’re using the code properly.

10 Great Coupon Code Websites 

Websites like DontPayfull, Coupons.com, CouponCabin, and RetailMeNot aggregate thousands of online shopping promotions from merchants worldwide. Depending on the site, you could copy-paste the code to a retailer’s website or click an affiliate link (which is usually a referral code).

The affiliate link will automatically open the webpage with the online store’s deal or apply any applicable discount. Here are 10 well-known coupon websites in the United States:

  1. DontPayFull
  2. RetailMeNot
  3. CouponCabin
  4. Offers.com
  5. Rakuten
  6. Savings.com
  7. SlickDeals
  8. Groupon
  9. Dealspotr.com
  10. CouponFollow

Coupon Code Benefits for Merchants

Promo codes let stores track the effectiveness of their promotional campaigns and advertisements. This helps them identify which platforms generate conversions or site traffic most effectively.

For example, if a store offers a platform-specific promotion, they can easily track how many people used the code and how much revenue was generated. This data helps businesses make informed decisions about future marketing efforts.


Tip: Coupon codes help stores build customer loyalty via exclusive deals.

Coupon Codes FAQs

What Is a Coupon Code?

A coupon code, also known as a promotional or discount code, is a series of numbers, letters, or a combination of both that customers input into a box when ordering items online. Customers receive benefits such as flat discounts, percentage discounts, free shipping, or other promotional offers.

Shoppers could save from a few cents to hundreds of dollars on their purchases. Generally, the bigger a purchase is, the more significant the saving opportunities are too.

How Do Coupon Codes Work?

Codes are entered during an online checkout process to redeem the related offer. The discount or special deal will be applied to the entire shopping card or specific products. Note that some discount codes have restrictions such as a minimum purchase amount or an expiry date. 

Where to Find Coupons Codes?

  • Retailer’s website: many online retailers have a dedicated section where customers can find and apply coupon codes.
  • Social media: stores may also distribute coupons through social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. Some retailers also have a section on their social media pages where they post current coupons.
  • Email marketing: retailers may also send coupon codes to customers who have subscribed to their email newsletter.
  • Loyalty program: some businesses offer loyalty or rewards-based coupon codes to customers who have made a certain number of purchases or have reached a certain loyalty status.
  • DontPayFull: DontPayFull offers various coupon codes and deals for all the stores you could think about. They’re sorted by category or retailer, making it easy to find the codes you need.

Can I Use More than One Coupon Code on a Single Order?

The ability to use multiple coupons on a single order depends on the retailer’s policy. Some sites allow multiple codes, while others may only allow one code per order. Please check the specific terms and conditions for each promotional code. Note that this is generally called coupon stacking.

Do Coupon Codes Expire?

Yes, most coupons have an expiration date. The expiration date is part of the coupon’s information or is mentioned on the site offering the code. However, some retailers may not provide explicit expiration dates, indicating that the offer is ‘limited time only’. You should always use available discounts ASAP to avoid missing the opportunity.

How Do I Use a Coupon Code?

When shopping online, you’ll add items to your cart and proceed to checkout. On the checkout page, there may be a box labeled “Promo code,” “Discount code,” ” Coupon code,” or something similar. Here, you enter your code, and the discount is applied to your purchase.

What to Do If a Coupon Code Doesn’t Work?

There are a few steps that can be taken to troubleshoot the issue:

  • Check the expiration date: some coupon codes have expiration dates, so make sure the code you are trying to use is still valid.
  • Check the terms and conditions: some coupons may have restrictions, such as a minimum purchase amount or limitations on which products or services the code can be used for.
  • Check the spelling and format: ensure that the coupon code is entered correctly and in the correct format. Coupon codes are often case-sensitive and may have spaces between letters or numbers that must be included.
  • Check if the coupon is valid for your location: some codes may only be valid in specific regions or countries. Check if the coupon is valid for your location.
  • Contact the retailer: if you have checked all the previous steps and the coupon code still doesn’t work, contact the retailer’s customer service. They may be able to assist you with the issue or provide you with an alternative coupon.
  • Check the website where you found the coupon: if you found it on a website that provides coupons, like DontPayFull, check if the coupon is still valid or if the website has any information about the coupon, like if it’s expired or if it has been removed.

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