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The Honey Chrome extension: An example of what's new and better

A Chrome extension called Honey can automatically find coupon codes to apply during your online checkouts. Find out how it works and how it came to be.

To paraphrase the Most Interesting Man in the World, I don't always bring coupons to the store, but when I do I usually forget to apply them when checking out. I've resorted to wrapping the coupon around my credit card so I'll remember it.

Online shopping is much the same experience for me. I usually skip over coupon code fields since I don't receive coupons by email and searching the web for them is too much trouble when I need that anniversary gift shipped out NOW.

The benefit of Honey

Because of my chronic lack of coupon awareness, I was interested to read about Honey, a Chrome extension which can do the coupon-hunting for you. Honey adds a "Find savings" button (Figure A) to many prominent sites (Amazon.com, Old Navy, Best Buy, etc.) which you can use at checkout.

Figure A

Any relevant or applicable coupons can then be applied to your order. Their main site has a FAQ with the full rundown.

I have to admit a part of me was skeptical. As a system administrator I spent many horrible years dealing with spyware on computer systems at work and home, fixing suffocated PCs for fellow employees, friends, and family alike. Though the spyware heyday seems to be waning fast (thankfully), I still grimace in disgust at the memory of Bargain Buddy, CoolWebSearch, Gator, and similar ilk which caused me to pull out my hair in frustration and reach for the Advil.

Years in the trenches conditioned a deep and healthy skepticism in me towards anything I need to install to obtain "offers," "savings," "deals," etc. However, this is a new era. I kept an open mind and was pleased to see that Honey does what it's supposed to without any gimmicks, tricks or ulterior motives. I tested this extension to see how it affected my system (see "Are you sure it's not spyware?" below for details) to confirm that it had no adverse impact.

Installing Honey

At present Honey only runs on Chrome, but extensions for other browsers are in the works.

To install Honey in Chrome, access www.joinhoney.com. (Figure B)

Figure B

Click "Install for Chrome." You will receive the box shown in Figure C.

Figure C

As the notice indicates, there is no registration involved - no requirement to create an account and deal with annoying captchas, no email verification, no opt-in or opt-out games. With regards to the information Honey collects, the FAQ states:

"We collect two types of information:

1) Information that you explicitly give to us such as your name, avatar, and email address. You may also give us access to your information in other services, such as when you link your Facebook or Twitter account. The information we obtain depends on your settings and the privacy policy of these services.

2) Technical information as a result of your use of our product. We collect automatically generated information such as log data, cookies, device information, and data about the success or failure of codes applied to your cart, and some other information collected by Google Analytics. To opt out of tracking with Google Analytics, visit: http://tools.google.com/dlpage/gaoptout"

If you are satisfied with the conditions, click "Install now." (Figure D)

Figure D

Click "Add" to continue. Once the process finishes you will see the screen shown in Figure E.

Figure E

I clicked "Think you got it? Click here to try out." It took me to Amazon.com and brought up a page with some handbags for sale. I experimented by adding one to my cart and going through the order process. (Figure F)

Figure F

See that "Find savings" button? That's added by the Honey extension. I clicked it. (Figure G)

Figure G

Honey began scanning the web looking for discount codes. (Figure H)

Figure H

Unfortunately, Honey didn't find any coupons. I deleted the item from my cart (the handbag looked nice, but my wife already has enough purses) and tried another test. This time it worked on Macy's website. (Figure I)

Figure I

Are you sure it's not spyware?

Yes. Spyware sucks up resources, slowing down your system and bringing your web browsing to a crawl (which is how it always gave itself away like the bad guys in Scooby Doo). While using Honey I saw no popups, toolbars, weird messages or other suspicious behavior either in my browser or on my PC. I analyzed my Windows 7 system and found no trace of anything odd in the program folders, Windows directory, user profile, startup items or system services. My antivirus/antimalware scanner didn't emit a peep.

Then I checked my Chrome performance to see what was going on under the hood. Here is a screenshot of my current Chrome extensions. As you can see, Honey is present and enabled. (Figure J)

Figure J

I accessed the Chrome Task Manager (press Shift-Esc in Chrome). The extension is not consuming resources - it's not even running! (Figure K)

Figure K

I clicked "Stats for nerds" and saw the following processes running in Chrome, with the associated memory used. (Figure L)

Figure L

As before, Honey is not active on my system. It simply comes into play during the checkout process.

Chatting with the developer

I spoke with George Ruan, one of the developers of Honey, to inquire how they came up with the idea.

  • George Ruan (GR): We came up with the idea because we're engineers who like to automate everything. We're also smart online shoppers who always Google for coupon codes before buying anything online. But the process is tedious (checkout, open another tab, Google for [store name] + coupon, try and apply codes). So we built Honey for ourselves, but it turns out it solves a universal problem. Since launch a few months ago (Nov, 2012), we've seen over 280,000 organic installs. Honey works extremely well on sites like GoDaddy, with an average saving of 40%.
  • Scott Matteson (SM): How did you develop Honey?
  • GR: Developing Chrome extensions is very easy. We wrote the frontend in JavaScript and CSS and published it to the Chrome store with a Google Developer account. It's also possible to create private extensions that a company can use internally. For example, our developers created a separate private extension we use to manage data internally.
  • SM: How long did it take to build Honey?
  • GR: Honey's proof of concept prototype took three weeks to build. When it took off virally, we (a team of three) rebuilt everything from the ground up in a scalable way that can support millions of users. That process took about three months.
  • SM: Was there any involvement with other businesses or organization (permissions, rights, etc.) in order to proceed with the project?
  • GR: The beauty of browser extensions is that it is client-side software that does its magic after the page has been delivered. Because of this, we are able to make Honey work on any website without having to form businesses relationships.
  • SM: How often does Honey find coupon savings for users?
  • GR: How well Honey works depends on the store people shop at. After all, Honey is a coupon finder, not a coupon generator. On sites that do offer coupons (GoDaddy, Macys, Kohl's), Honey is effective close to 100% of the time. The Honey Twitter feed provides a real-time glimpse of people's savings.
  • SM: Were there any snags, pitfalls, lessons, etc. that might be good to share with readers?
  • GR: The biggest pitfall to keep in mind is the fragmentation of the browser platforms. There's a fair amount of work to build and maintain the code base for each browser. It may not be an issue for an enterprise that standardizes the browser its employees use, but for direct to consumer extensions it's something to keep in mind.
  • SM: Does Honey generate profit for your organization?
  • GR: We currently do not make money from the extension. This is something we will explore further down the road, but right now we are concentrating on improving the product and the user experience.

Every little bit helps

Whether you're a frequent online shopper or not, it doesn't hurt to have Honey installed to see if it can help save a few bucks here and there. Now if they can just come up with a talking paper coupon that says "Hey, don't forget to use me!" I can quit turning red when my wife asks "Did you use that coupon I gave you?"

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About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

3 comments
Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

You give this app the keys to the kingdom. From the FAQ that you quoted: "You may also give us access to your information in other services, such as when you link your Facebook or Twitter account."

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What Chrome extensions do you allow in your organization? Do you actively monitor Chrome extensions for security concerns? Are there Chrome extensions that you install as a matter of standard operating procedure? Are there specific Chrome extensions that you block?