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A “coupon detective” that scours the web and finds coupons that can save you money on your next online purchase – sounds great, right? But wait. The idea behind this latest initiative isn’t to find coupons so you can use them to save money – it’s to find coupons so you can’t.

So who’s this “detective” working for, anyway?

Turns out it’s the latest service being offered by clean.io, a friend to retailers and a foe to coupon aggregators and consumers who use coupons that retailers claim were never meant to be widely available.

“Coupon Detective helps you understand how shopping extensions and coupon sites affect your business,” clean.io said in launching the service as a new app. The tool “provides a detailed report on coupons” to online merchants, so they know where their coupons are being found online, how many times they’re being used, and who’s using them.

“Shoppers and retailers alike love coupons for the savings they provide,” clean.io explained. But online deal sites and third-party coupon browser extensions “scrape every coupon code they can find and hand them out to shoppers who weren’t the intended recipients.”

This is “promo abuse,” the company claims, which “cuts into sales and eats up profit margins” for the retailers who intended to offer them to select customers, and not the entire internet.

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Now, what’s good for shoppers isn’t always good for retailers, so one person’s saving grace is another person’s grinch. Shoppers and coupon sites are unlikely to be pleased by this Coupon Detective, but clean.io hopes retailers are. Merchants who download the app will get a report letting them know when shoppers are using a coupon extension, how much “lost revenue (can be) tied to coupon extensions and deal sites” and “which deal sites are leaking coupons.” They’ll also get advice on which coupon codes ought to be retired or redistributed to avoid overuse.

The app and the service are free, all the better to encourage retailers to sign up for clean.io’s “cleanCART” service, which offers to “block injection of unwanted discount codes from coupon extensions like Honey, CapitalOne Shopping, Piggy, and more.

Some might subscribe to the philosophy that “information wants to be free” – an online coupon code isn’t a tangible thing that can be used, copied or counterfeited. It’s just a collection of letters and numbers. And if it’s out there, it’s out there. Any online merchant who wants to give a discount to certain customers and not others, can just make those collections of letters and numbers unique and single-use.

Not every online merchant has the ability to generate unique coupons, though. Many just issue a coupon code like “SAVE25OFF,” call it a day, and end up shocked, SHOCKED, when the internet discovers the offer and spreads it around. clean.io says some two billion shoppers use coupon code sites and browser extensions. Its services, the company says, have already saved sellers some $100 million in blocked, unauthorized discounts.

Or, depending on your perspective, it’s cost customers some $100 million in lost savings opportunities.

So as you embark on your holiday shopping this year, don’t look to this Coupon Detective to help you find deals. If online merchants embrace this service, the only detective work you’ll be doing, is trying to determine why you’re having to pay full price.

Image source: clean.io

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