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A NEW AGE OF INTERACTIVE COUPONS

It has been a rocky 18 months or so for the millions of consumers who use manufacturers' cents-off coupons, and those who depend on these discounts to maintain their product-quality lifestyles.

Early last year, when Procter and Gamble tried to toll the death knell of manufacturers' cents-off coupons by eliminating their product coupons in Western New York, consumers grew frustrated and protested. I received hundreds of letters on the subject from concerned consumers across the country, most of whom were incensed over the prospect of losing their coupon discounts.

I've assured readers that I did not believe that this would mark the beginning of the end. Rather, I said that couponing is an ebb-and-flow promotional tool that gains and loses favor as our economy eternally rises and falls.

Though I do not believe that we will soon see the destruction of the coupon promotion, I believe that coupons will evolve. I predicted greater access to different varieties of coupons through electronic media, and that day has arrived.

Dozens of manufacturers have their own Web sites, which offer everything from new product introductions to free recipes, and very often free samples and coupon discounts that you can print right off your computer.

Cybercoupons have just taken a giant step forward with the introduction of Cool Savings, at www.coolsavings.com, a new generation of product information and direct-relationship marketing brought to you by the Interactive Coupon Network.

Cool Savings won't be replacing the coupons that you redeem in your supermarket. However, there will be coupons available for interesting items at national anchor stores.

For example, sites that are already up and offering savings include Toys R Us, WorldNet (AT & T); JCPenney, Barnes & Noble; Boston Market; CBS Sportsline; National Car Rental; Royal Caribbean Cruises; Microsoft; Chuck E. Cheese, and Alamo Car Rental. Some of the offers that you can expect to find include coupons, rebates or notices of ongoing sales. Many of the individual sites will offer special contests that require no mailing; the user will just be able to click a contact button to pop up an e-mail reply form that will already be filled out with a name and address.

One of the interesting features of Cool Savings is that visitors must register. You will be asked questions about your demographics, such as age bracket, members in family, pets, children and ages, etc., as a means of gauging the types of items in which you might be interested.

Then you or your family will be offered coupons and savings on items that most closely fit your demographic profile. For example, JCPenney is one of the advertisers, and it wouldn't direct savings on children's wear to a single-family household with no children. The offers can be so individualized that users will receive birthday specials and even grand-opening invitations to users who live near a new outlet.

There are some benefits to consumers for taking advantage of cyberadvertising. For example, the multimedia approach allows consumers to obtain special savings, research sales and find out the store closest to their home by clicking the screen. The interactive approach allows the consumer to provide answers to questions and some consumer input that is instantly available to the manufacturer.

There is no charge for using the service. One of the most appealing facets to me is that Cool Savings has promised to honor the privacy of its users and will not divulge the names and addresses of its members to advertisers.

Let me know what you think of Cool Savings and its counterparts, www.kooponz.com and www.hotcoupons.com. Is this a mode of shopping that you find interesting and exciting? E-mail me at qpons@aol.com, and I'll review your input and share it with readers in a future column.

Today's offers

$3.50 denture care savings offer. For $2 cash and $1.50 in coupons, send two UPCs from Polident (36-count or more), DentuCreme and/or PoliGrip plus a dated and circled cash register receipt. Package insert form required. Expires Feb. 28, 1999.

$2 Pledge Spray or Lotion refund. For a $2 refund, send the UPC from a 12.5-ounce Pledge Spray or Lotion plus a dated and circled cash register receipt (dated between July 1, 1997, and June 30, 1998). Store form required and must be received by July 14, 1998.

Up to $6.99 Lilt Wavy by Nature rebate. Send the specially marked package sticker, a UPC symbol from a Lilt Wavy by Nature perm, plus a store-identified cash register receipt. Specially marked package sticker form required. Expires March 31, 1998.

$10 Regal Ware refund. For $10 refund, send the UPC symbol from a Regal Rotisserie Plus, model K7820, plus a dated and circled cash register receipt. Booklet form required. Expires: 12-31-97.

Send any questions or problems regarding coupons and refunding to Super Saver, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 639, Libertyville, Ill. 60048.

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