- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shoes can be an expensive addiction, but Athena Reizakis has managed to keep up her habit while keeping down costs by shopping for discounts online.

Ms. Reizakis, a McLean information-technology consultant with more than 200 pairs of shoes in her closet, uses Ebates.com, one of a growing number of Web sites that give shoppers cash back or offer lower prices for online purchases. She estimates that she has gotten back about $5,000 from Ebates over the years for her purchases of shoes, clothes, books and household products.

While some frugal shoppers are still clipping coupons, more of them are surfing the Internet to find the best bargains these days. Increasing numbers are turning to Web sites that provide rebates, special discounts and coupons that can be printed or sent straight to a mobile device.

“We’re moving toward this trend of everything being online, couponing included,” said Mike Kraus, a retail analyst for AllBusiness.com.

Some Web sites, such as RetailMeNot.com and Promotions.com, aggregate discounts offered by other Web sites. Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, also enables shoppers to search for the best cash-back deals for a specific product on various sites.

Other sites, such as CellFire.com and ZaveNetworks.com, enable users to access coupons straight from a mobile device, no computer needed. All these shoppers have to do is show the code on their phone at checkout.

Shoppers also can troll sites such as 8coupons.com to text-message discounts to their phones or to their friends. Sites such as GetYowza.com and CouponSherpa.com offer downloadable iPhone applications through which shoppers can search and download discounts to their phones.

Retail analysts say savings and simplicity are most important to consumers, and shoppers are becoming increasingly more tech-savvy in order to get both.

Ebates gives cash back to anyone who accesses a store through its portal. So a person shopping through Ebates.com could enter a promotional code or discount as well as get cash back after his or her purchase.

“We’re trying to give shoppers what we think is the best deal possible for shopping online,” said Kevin Johnson, chief executive officer of Ebates.

Ebates.com partners with more than 1,200 stores, obtaining a commission for each shopper it sends their way. A percentage of those earnings is shared with shoppers. Some Ebates partners offer shoppers as much as 26 percent back, though most rebates are in the range of 3 percent to 5 percent.

Business is booming. Mr. Johnson said Ebates has paid between $40 million and $45 million in rebates since it was founded in 1998. He expects Ebates will pay $20 million back to its consumers this year.

“The idea is to give customers the best price and to bring them into a loyalty program like this by offering lower prices,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, e-business analyst at Forrester Research. “It’s not unlike a frequent-flier program for shoppers.”

As the country continues to recover from recession, scoring a good deal has become a source of pride, said Mr. Kraus of AllBusiness.com.

“It’s almost a game now to be able to tell people how much you saved. There’s bragging rights associated with getting the best deal,” he said.

Mr. Johnson said he was encouraged by this thrifty trend.

“I think we’re not going back to the overspending just for the sake of overspending,” he said. “We like the newfound frugality.”

While Ms. Reizakis said she still enjoys shopping the old-fashioned way in actual stores, she usually just browses stores now. Then, she said, she goes home to make her purchases online, where she can usually find a better price through online discounters.