Inside the mind of another coupon clipping guru: the founder of BradsDeals.com

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I've been on a tear in recent months, interviewing the people behind coupon online sites. Not on purpose; it's just happening that way. Anyway, I recently spoke to Brad Wilson behind BradsDeals.com. He has a web site that really does seem amazing. I keep trying to talk AOL into giving me a $10,000 weekly budget, so I can shop online and report back on how I'm doing, but somehow, the executives just don't seem to be buying my line of thinking.

In any case, rather than just look around the web site and report what I see, I thought it might be helpful to have a mini-talk with the Brad behind Brad's Deals.

WalletPop: You know, you're the second guy I've run into lately who owns an online coupon site. I thought we guys were supposed to be shopping Neanderthals who don't care about coupons. So what's your story? How'd you get into this?
Brad: A trader friend of mine says I am in the 'consumer arbitrage' business. I think he's probably right. I enjoy the game. It's a big puzzle: the math, the analytics, finding the most efficient purchase. I also like shopping, writing (words and code -- I still do some of the web development) and being in a position to help others, which is how this started. Helping others is actually another game in and of itself -- how do you make things easy and articulate enough so that anyone can take advantage of this otherwise cryptic online-shopping-with-discount-codes process?

WalletPop:
Well, speaking of discounts, you know, I'll see these coupons, and sometimes if the deals are really good, there are times when I think, 'Geez, how does the company make any money?' Or: "If they can afford to sell this for 25% off, why don't they all the time?" So I guess what I'm asking is -- what's their logic in coming up with these prices?
Brad: I've always thought the same thing. From our perch, though, I can sometimes dig into it and find the answer. It is usually pretty rational. For example, Restaurant.com [had] a 70% off-code through July 31. They often do large coupons but that was their biggest. But since they get their dining certificates for free from the restaurants, they can sell them for almost any amount of money. Dell occasionally does extremely large coupons, like $750 off $1,500, but it's usually for a specific product and with a specific redemption limit, like 4,000 people can use the coupon. That all relates to how efficient Dell's supply chain is. They know that they have 4,000 too many hard drives for a given notebook that day, so they blow out 4,000 of those notebooks, and the cost is less than sitting on too many depreciating hard drives. Often times, it is a new store that simply says, "$10 off anything," in order to get new customers or be able to test their site or service under a heavy load. Ultimately, it all comes down to context, which is where we come in. Is $10 off anything actually good? Is 70% off?

WalletPop: So do you have any sure-fire tips for saving money, besides coupons -- which you obviously are a big proponent of -- and besides not buying anything at all, since anyone can figure that out? I've been told that some companies have their prices lower at certain times of the year because they're trying to clear inventory.
Brad: Yes, there are times for each business where the deals get better. It depends on the industry to some degree. Shopping counter-intuitively is always smart, i.e., coats in May and patio furniture in October. Shopping at Internet-only stores, like Amazon.com, Overstock.com, Buy.com, Drugstore.com, is a sure-fire way to save as much as 10.25% on sales tax in Chicago, plus the financial and opportunity costs of driving to the store. In general, the week after Christmas is secretly very good online, more so than off-line. Beyond that, just digging around a little bit always helps. For back to school, everyone wants a Mac, but it's nearly impossible to get a good deal on one. But there is a little-known Apple Education Store tucked into the Apple web site that is giving $100 to $200 off Macs plus a free iPod for students and teachers through September 15. Simply finding and pointing out things like that is the best thing we can do. Patience is a virtue with shopping as well. If I want a new TV, I give myself a few weeks to waiting for an incredible deal, rather than jumping on a mere good one today.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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