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Digital coupons at Publix offer pros, cons

I tried the new digital coupons at Publix the other day. The grocery chain is introducing paperless coupons at its 1,068 stores and began rolling them out at some Tampa locations last week.

Overall, I give the coupons a solid B. They aren't going to revolutionize my grocery shopping, but they are going to give me another tool for saving money. All Publix stores in Florida should offer them by March 8.

Here are some pros. It takes just a minute to sign up at publix.com/dcoupon and it's easy to scroll through the coupons, virtually clipping the ones you like. Your picks get stored in your account and you can email them to yourself or print them out.

The system deletes them when they expire, eliminating the need to check which ones are still good every time you go to the store.

The biggest advantage is that you can never forget digital coupons at home or lose them in the bottom of your purse. You just enter your phone number at checkout, and any eligible coupons are automatically applied to your bill. What's really cool for hardcore clippers is that your account keeps a running total of which coupons you have used and how much you have saved. Over time, that might feel pretty good — particularly if you've just splurged on a purchase and need some justification.

Here's what I'm not crazy about: The coupon selection is limited, you don't know when new ones are posted, and there's some duplication of traditional coupons you get in Sunday's newspaper. Of the 100 digital coupons available last week, I clipped just nine, most with savings on par with other kinds of coupons.

The whole paperless part is somewhat misleading. Unless you can remember every coupon you have — which is doubtful — you really need to print or write your list, noting which coupons have purchase requirements.

I used my iPhone to view my coupons online but found it cumbersome. There's no way to mark off items as you collect them, so you've got to constantly scroll through your list as you walk around the store. With paper coupons, I separate them by store section — freezer, refrigerator, dry goods — and put them to the side once I find the item. It's not high-tech, but it works.

Redeeming the coupons at the checkout was a little tricky, too, although I suspect that will improve with time. I was not able to enter my phone number into the keypad as advertised and the clerk ended up calling over a manager to help. I had to shout out my number in front of a bunch of strangers, which felt awkward and a bit too personal.

By the time we figured everything out, the line had swelled to five people deep. The manager yelled for a backup cashier. I slinked out the door without making eye contact with anyone in line behind me.

Total digital savings: $4.15.

• • •

Kate McKenzie Clothiers in Tampa is throwing a party this week to celebrate 15 years in business. That's no small feat for an independent retailer.

Owner Wendy Guzzle says she has survived by adapting to changing times and listening to customers. When they stopped buying $200 dresses during the recession, she found less expensive lines. When the Internet fueled competition, she started promoting the store on Facebook and calling customers personally when new shipments arrived.

"You definitely have to love it," she said. "In the first four years, I was there six days a week. You really have to like the people and every year try something new. You can't get too attached to anything."

To celebrate the milestone, the store at 1550 S Dale Mabry Highway in the Carriage Trade Plaza will have 15 percent off all merchandise Thursday and Friday and prizes for the first 15 customers each day. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Digital coupons at Publix offer pros, cons 02/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 9:53pm]
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