There are many benefits to spending money at local businesses. It boosts the local economy by keeping more dollars in the community and the environment by reducing your long-distance shopping trips and online orders.
But shopping local can sometimes cost more. Fortunately, tons of free or low-cost tools can help you buy more of what you need from local merchants without overspending.
Best Shopping Tools That Reward You for Shopping Local
The best local shopping tools fall into five categories:
- Browser extensions
- Cash-back and cash rewards apps
- Group buying and daily discount sites
- Cash-back credit cards
- Local shopping rewards programs
And you can use more than one of these tools at once. For example, use a cash-back credit card to buy through a daily discount site or browser extension to save even more.
1. Browser Extensions
Best for Shoppers Who Want a Truly Seamless Experience
- Potential Savings: Variable, but Capital One Shopping reliably offers up to 4% in Capital One Shopping Rewards with participating merchants
- Reward Types: Instant discounts or cash back when you buy; better prices from participating merchants; store loyalty rewards
- Other Perks: No need to select offers manually — just link your card or bank account and start spending
The best browser extensions for online shopping are compatible with popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. They do three things well:
- Find and present coupon codes that help reduce the final cost of purchases
- Help you find a lower price when you shop for products online
- Deliver instant cash back or loyalty currency you can redeem with participating merchants
Not all browser extensions reward local purchases equally. But Capital One Shopping goes above and beyond.
Capital One Shopping offers three ways to save:
- It automatically applies coupon codes within its extensive database. That saves you time and money when you shop online.
- It instantly compares prices from more than 30,000 retailers, including extra fees for things like shipping and membership. If it finds a better price on any product you’re considering, it shows you the cost difference with a link to the competing retailer’s checkout page.
- It rewards you with Capital One Shopping Rewards when you purchase with participating retailers, even if no coupon or better price is available. Save your rewards and redeem them for gift cards.
It’s this third option that really shines for local shoppers. No matter where you live, you’re probably close to locally-owned retailers offering Capital One Shopping rewards.
To find out, sign up for Capital One Shopping. Install the browser extension, and enter your zip code when prompted. The extension will list any participating local merchants.
Once you know where to find them, earning rewards is easy. Just link your credit card, debit card, or bank account, and purchase from your favorite vendors. Save your rewards and redeem them for gift cards from dozens of merchants, including local favorites.
You can use it away from home too. If you’d like to shop with independent merchants when you travel, enter your destination zip code to discover a whole new world of local savings.
2. Cash-Back & Rewards Apps
Best for Shoppers Making Multiproduct Orders
- Potential Savings: Variable
- Reward Types: Instant discounts or cash back when you buy; rebates; store loyalty rewards
- Other Perks: Easily apply coupons and cash-back opportunities to multiple products in a large order
Retail coupons have been around for much longer than mobile phones or desktop computers.
But they’ve gotten a sorely needed update for the 21st century. These days, you’re much more likely to find coupons, rebates, and cash-back offers in digital form. Old-fashioned coupon clipping is a thing of the past.
There’s no shortage of legit grocery coupon and cash-back apps for shoppers looking to trim their supermarket spending. But you can also easily find digital coupons for other types of purchases.
Popular iOS- and Android-compatible mobile apps like Capital One Shopping automatically trawl the Internet for active coupon codes and promo codes. Then, they apply the most relevant ones while you shop. They work whether you’re buying milk and eggs online or purchasing a couch or TV from your favorite store.
And Capital One Shopping delivers real-time rewards through local-friendly Capital One Shopping rewards. Whether you prefer to make in-person or online purchases, that’s two easy ways to save when you shop local.
Capital One Shopping has competitors in the cash-back and rewards app space too. Ibotta, Rakuten, Honey, Fetch Rewards, and Dosh all deserve shout-outs.
3. Group-Buying & Daily Discount Sites
Best for Shoppers Seeking Deep Discounts
- Potential Savings: Up to 50% off the list price (and sometimes more)
- Reward Types: Instant discounts when you buy; bulk pricing
- Other Perks: Deals generally retain their face value — what you paid for them — even after the promotional value expires
You’ve heard of buying goods in bulk. What about experiences?
Bulk pricing on experiences like restaurant meals, guided tours, and spa treatments was the original promise of group-buying and daily discount sites like Groupon. Many businesses featured on these sites are locally owned and operated. Your favorite local sandwich shop, day spa, or craft retailer might be among them.
Today, sites like Groupon offer an even wider range of ways to save money. They also have a wider selection of physical goods.
In fact, the original “Groupon model” isn’t as popular these days. Now, most of the best group-buying and daily deals sites are more like online stores that offer consistently favorable pricing on a predictable lineup of goods and services.
The specific vendors might change, but you generally know what broad categories are available from one week to the next. You can use watchlists and other shopper-friendly tools to track inventory and pricing.
That’s important if you want to ensure you can reward your favorite local merchants, whether you buy today, tomorrow, or next month.
4. Cash-Back Credit Cards
Best for Shoppers Looking for Rewards on All Purchases Everywhere
- Potential Savings: Reliably up to 2% cash back for flat-rate cash-back credit cards; reliably up to 5% cash back (and sometimes more) in select spending categories
- Reward Types: Redeem rewards for statement credits, bank account deposits, gift cards, merchandise, purchases with partner retailers, and travel points
- Other Perks: Many come with perks like cellphone insurance, extended warranties on goods purchased with the card, and basic travel insurance
If you’re a credit card user, you probably have at least one cash-back credit card in your wallet. This card likely rewards you for purchases in one or more ways:
- A flat cash-back rate on every eligible dollar you spend
- Higher cash-back rates on purchases in specific spending categories, such as grocery store purchases, gas purchases, or travel purchases
- A special bonus offer for new account holders, usually tied to a set spending goal within the first few months of membership
Cash back usually comes in the form of rewards points you can redeem for your choice of statement credits, bank account deposits, or gift cards from local or national merchants. Less often, it comes as an instant or scheduled statement credit with no action required on your part.
When evaluating cash-back rewards programs, consider:
- The overall return rate on spending
- How you collect rewards
- Any limitations in the fine print
Also, look for a card that makes it easy to spend with your favorite local merchants. That’s easiest with one of the following:
- A flat-rate card that offers the same return on most or all purchases
- A card that offers higher returns in spending categories that tend to include local merchants, like grocery stores or home improvement stores
- A card the merchant accepts — some don’t take them at all, and others accept limited card types, often Visa and Mastercard over American Express or Discover
It’s also very easy to earn credit card rewards for shopping local while taking advantage of one or more other local shopping tools. Just use your cash-back fave as your linked card whenever possible.
For example, if you link your cash-back credit card to your Capital One Shopping account, you guarantee a higher rate of return. Use your Capital One Quicksilver cash rewards credit card to buy with a local merchant that takes Capital One Shopping rewards as well.
5. Local Rewards Programs
Best for Shoppers Who Want to Do the Most Good Locally
- Potential Savings: Highly variable
- Reward Types: Rewards you can redeem with participating merchants for discounted or free services
- Other Perks: Easy to stack with other local shopping tools, like Capital One Shopping and cash-back credit cards
Are you concerned your local shopping habit isn’t doing enough good in your community?
If your hometown has a local shopping app with a customer rewards program, search for it online using Google or your hometown’s municipal website. Then, join it. That’s a sure way to maximize the impact of your around-town spending.
One of the most successful local shopping rewards programs is Akronite, which serves Akron, Ohio.
Akronite is a city-sponsored app that rewards locals for spending more with participating independent merchants. The app’s local offers nudge shoppers to choose the local coffee shop over Starbucks, the independent hardware store over Walmart, and the family-run diner over Denny’s.
According to Yes Media, Akronite spurred approximately $500,000 in economic activity between August 2020 and June 2021. Both businesses and shoppers benefit from the app.
Each month, the city tallies up shopping credits earned through the app and reimburses businesses that pay them. That creates what Akron’s deputy mayor of integrated development calls a “circular economy.”
A similar app launched in Boston in early 2021, and more cities are in the works. Soon enough, you might have an Akronite-like option in your backyard.
You can boost your savings even more by pairing program purchases with another local shopping tool, like Capital One Shopping or your favorite cash-back credit card (or both).
Shopping local shouldn’t be difficult. Nor should only big, faceless corporate retailers reward you for spending your hard-earned money.
These user-friendly shopping tools make shopping local easy and rewarding. They work for everyday purchases like groceries, less frequent purchases like car tires, and everything in between.
Best of all, you don’t have to choose just one. You can pair a browser extension like Capital One Shopping with a flat-rate cash-back credit card and save even more. As your savings add up, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.
Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the Capital One Shopping extension using the links we provided.