On the surface, promo codes look pretty straightforward. A store provides a code that the customer enters into a box, and like magic, a discount suddenly appears. Unfortunately, as with many things in life, promo codes are not nearly as simple as they seem.
Stores release several types of promo codes and they each function in slightly different ways. Understanding these subtle distinctions makes the difference between having a successful checkout experience and one fraught with frustration.
Below is a handy guide designed to help you recognize the different types of promo codes.
Store-Wide Percentage Off Promo Codes
In many ways, these are the holy grail of promo codes. They are generally for a stated percent off and are supposed to be applicable to the store’s entire online inventory (sometimes with a minimum spend required).
Expert tip:Department stores (Macy’s and Lord and Taylor in particular) are known for releasing store-wide percentage off promo codes that contain a host of exclusions listed in fine print. This is a clever marketing ploy, but often makes the codes worthless for most of the items the average customer wants to buy.
Set Dollar Amount Off Promo Codes
While not quite as common as percentage off promo codes, there are instances when stores offer a discount in the form of a dollar amount instead. For example, a retailer may make available a $10 off $50 purchase promo code or a $25 off $100 promo code.
Expert tip:Most stores do not count tax or shipping when it comes to meeting the minimum spending requirement. This becomes especially agitating when stores price items at $49.99, thus requiring you to buy a second item in order to redeem the $10 off $50 purchase promo code.
Free Shipping Promo Codes
This is usually one of the simplest promo codes to decipher. There are often minimum spend requirements attached to these promo codes, but they are typically made very clear in the messaging and the thresholds don’t tend to be unreasonable.
Expert tip:It is quite common that states and territories outside the contiguous United States are excluded from the free shipping promo codes. Though rare, there are some stores that also limit free shipping promo codes to certain cities, regions or states.
Clearance-Only Promo Codes
These promo codes can sometimes provide shoppers the best value. When stores become anxious to unload outdated or overstocked inventory, they tend to offer exceptional clearance deals. When they become really desperate they release promo codes that provide an even steeper discount to the already marked down clearance prices. Just don’t expect these promo codes to work on non-clearance items.
Expert tip:Clearance stock is forever changing and exceedingly unpredictable. The odds of discovering that an item is sold out or unavailable in the style or color that you want is much higher than with regular inventory.
BOGO Promo Codes
BOGO stands for Buy One, Get One Free and is a relatively popular promo code offering. While BOGO promo codes can provide solid savings, they are more useful for some items than others. Getting two skincare products might make perfect sense, but getting two of the same sweater is likely not as worthwhile.
Expert tip:It’s extremely rare that you can combine a BOGO promo code with another promo code or discount. This leads to a situation in which you must debate Discount vs. Duplicate. Unless you need two of the same item, it is often better to use another promo code and get a bigger discount.
Freebie Promo Codes
Everybody loves free stuff, right? It’s tough to beat the allure of freebie promo codes. While they often come in the form of free gifts with purchase (buy $50 worth of perfume and get a free tote bag), there are times when the manufacturer or store unconditionally gives away a new product to test its popularity in the marketplace.
Expert tip:Unfortunately, there are scammers out there who try to exploit freebie promo codes to get you to sign up for something or to get your personal information. Avoid redeeming a freebie promo code for a store you don’t trust, especially if they require you to provide billing information. Another scheme to be wary of involves shady retailers that release a freebie promo code, but then charge an exorbitant amount for shipping that product.
One-Time Use Promo Codes
A few stores like Victoria’s Secret are famous for offering exceptional one-time use promo codes to their most loyal customers. These promo codes are typically distributed via email or social media. Sometimes they may even arrive in the postal mail. They are intended only for the receiver to use and not for public consumption. Insider's tip: on Dealspotr, members post one-time use codes for thousands of popular brands, so you can always find them by searching here. See some examples: Kmart codes, Pottery Barn codes, Bath & Body Works codes, Kate Spade codes, Sears codes.
Expert tip:These are called one-time use promo codes for a reason – they only work one time. If you try to redeem one of these for a second time or try to redeem one you found online, the code likely won't work.
Personal Referral Codes
Some brands offer their members referral codes which they can share with friends and earn freebies, points, or cash rewards for referring new members. Often, these personal referral codes offer a discount, and sometimes these are really great discounts, like 25% off sitewide. Brands that offer personal referral codes include popular apps like Uber, GrubHub, Google Express, Boxed, and Instacart. Some big box retailers periodically offer personal referral codes, like Old Navy, Kohl's, and iHerb.com.
- Expert tip:
Members can post personal referral codes on Dealspotr, so if you're in a pinch and need a discount code for a brands that might offer one, check Dealspotr and you might find one.
Cardholder-Only Promo Codes
Kohl’s is an example of a store that often runs this type of promo code. As a means of encouraging customers to sign up for a store credit or rewards card, the retailer will offer an attractive promo code discount, but limit eligibility to cardholders.
Expert tip:Some stores will only apply the promo code to customers who were already cardholders, so signing up for a card won’t help you in these cases until the next cardholder-only promo code is released.
Rewards Points Promo Codes
Sites like Groupon tend to love offering these types of promo codes. Rather than provide a discount on an actual item or product, the store instead promises to give you credit that you can then use for a future purchase.
Expert tip:Stores sometimes put in time delays to prevent you from using the store credit you received from the promo code immediately.