Q: Where can I find coupons on the Internet? Are such deals only for use at Web stores?

A: Shoppers don't have to wait for advertising circulars to arrive with their newspapers or in the mail to find coupons. There are some great deals available on the Internet that consumers can use at online stores and cybershops and for merchandise and services in their neighborhoods.

A fast-growing number of people are trying online coupons, which offer everything from discounted dinners at nearby restaurants to price cuts on popular books. A recent survey by the research firm The NPD Group Inc. found that more than a quarter of the people who shop online now seek out Web coupons.

Many of the discounts are offered at Web sites that specialize in issuing coupons. Consumers should be aware that many of these sites are also in the business of direct marketing, which means they collect your personal information, and then allow merchants and manufacturers to target you with promotions based on your household demographics and buying habits.

Coolsavings.com is the best-known coupon site, offering deals on a wide-range of goods that can be bought on and off the Web. It has discounts on specific items _ such as 40 cents off Lipton Tea Bags _ as well as promotions for a particular store, like $10 off at barnesandnoble.com.

Consumers, however, do have to enroll to participate. Coolsavings then allows its member companies to send shoppers special deals, depending on their demographics and shopping habits. However, Coolsavings said it does not release shoppers' names or other personal information to manufacturers or retailer; they channel their offers to consumers through the Coolsavings site.

A different method in online couponing comes from ValuPage.com, which is essentially a database of discounts, rebates and contests.

Unlike Coolsavings, ValuPage is mostly focused on food and home products, and its coupons can be redeemed at bricks-and-mortar supermarkets. Offers are updated each Monday and many manufacturers make their deals available for several weeks.

Consumers are required to type in their zip code to get a listing of promotions at grocery stores near their homes. They then decide what supermarket they would like to shop at, and a list of deals for that chain appear onscreen.

Shoppers then scroll through the deals for a particular store. Once they've picked what they want to buy, a list of their deals pops up with a bar-code on top. They must print this out and bring it with them to the supermarket.

Most of the deals don't involve money-off coupons. Instead, shoppers can accrue ``Web Bucks,'' meaning that they can earn money for items that they buy. The Web Bucks can then be used on anything next time they visit the same supermarket. Someone buying a Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit get $2 in Web Bucks, while Kraft mayonnaise earns 35 cents.

While these are two of the larger coupon sites, there are dozens more offering discounts on everything from books to travel.

Valpak.com, which is best known for sending coupons via the mail to people's homes, operates a site that offers deals to stores and services based on where people live. Consumers can find discounts on everything from their local pizza places to nearby doctors.

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On The Net:

http://www.coolsavings.com

http://www.valupage.com

http://www.valpak.com