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Group Coupons: a Bitter or Sweet Deal?

Love (and shop­ping) is in the air, Ottawa, Spring 2011

Unless you spent the last few years in a cave, you prob­a­bly noted the emer­gence of dozens of “group coupon” web­sites: Groupon, Liv­ing­So­cial, Koo­pon, DealFind and many other are prob­a­bly already serv­ing your city. Sim­ply type the name of your city plus “deal” and they will pop up in your search results. Or just look at this blog’s side­bar: Groupon often adver­tises here.

I’m kind of a late adopter and I never really paid much atten­tion to these web­sites until a few months ago, when I noticed Deal Page, a page that aggre­gates all the deals for a given city. I found it was a pretty smart idea because there are sim­ply too many group coupon web­sites on the mar­ket, and each of them requires you to log in to see the deal of the day. Deal Page bypasses all that: a quick glance at the page will show you all the rel­e­vant deals for your city.

I book­marked the page and started check­ing it once in a while. Most offers seemed to be pretty good deals, offer­ing hefty dis­counts on spa pack­ages, meals in trendy restau­rants or yoga/pilate classes. Within the past 6 months, I bought two deals on two dif­fer­ent web­sites, one for a pedicure/manicure and one for a spa package.

First obvi­ous obser­va­tion: these deals do save you money but chances are you will spend more than you intended to. Group coupons encour­age peo­ple to buy “treats”, that is non-essential ser­vices such beauty ser­vices or restau­rant vouch­ers. Chances are you didn’t really need karate classes but you bought a pack­age because it seems like a sweet deal. If you are look­ing for deals to make ends meet at the end of the month, don’t bother. Or check out these 11 Ways to Resist Wast­ing Your Money on Groupon and Other Deal Sites.

So, all’s for the best, in the best of all pos­si­ble worlds? Not accord­ing to some dis­grun­tled busi­nesses and cus­tomers who expe­ri­enced group coupon night­mares.

The num­ber one com­plaint from busi­nesses seems to be that they didn’t know what they were get­ting into. Group coupon busi­ness clients mostly want to spread the word and attract repeat cus­tomers. How­ever, most of them are small busi­nesses and they are not always pre­pared for the poten­tial unex­pected large influx of deal-buyers. In some instance, so many peo­ple buy the deal that it would take the small busi­ness sev­eral years of work­ing full-time to rea­son­ably hon­our them all.

Other busi­nesses report that while they don’t expect to make a profit when offer­ing a deal (the ser­vice or goods are heav­ily dis­counted and social web­sites take a large cut), they have prob­lems just stay­ing afloat. And deal-seekers can be rude, cheat or “for­get” to tip staff mem­bers. Finally, there are appar­ently less repeat cus­tomers than most busi­nesses hoped for. It’s true that as a cus­tomer, I prob­a­bly won’t come back to the spa where I had my mani/pedi: the full price tag of the ser­vice is sim­ply too high.

On the other side, group coupon buy­ers may find that it is dif­fi­cult to sched­ule appoint­ment due to the masses that bought the same deal. For the pedi/mani deal I bought, I was lucky: I called right away and was sched­uled within a week or two. Mind you, that was almost two months ago and I’m will­ing to bet pedi­cures are not the best-selling ser­vice in the dead of the win­ter. I’m sched­uled to use the spa pack­age deal early May—it took almost two months to get an appointment.

Other buy­ers com­plain that they are treated as sub-par cus­tomers because busi­nesses don’t feel they are get­ting their money worth. Scams are start­ing to appear as well. For instance, this Valentine’s Day offer wasn’t such as sweet deal, and a pho­tog­ra­phy deal was recently pulled off after it was revealed the pho­tog­ra­pher stole pic­tures to pro­mote her business.

I will con­tinue to check upcom­ing deals but I’m get­ting really picky—not that I was a big con­sumer before anyway.

Have you ever used a group coupon web­site? Bought a deal? What was your experience?

16 comments

  1. I have no inter­est in group coupon sites because either I would never buy those things nor­mally or because the com­pa­nies increase their prices first before claim­ing the per­cent­age off so it’s not actu­ally a deal. Way too many of them seem like scams. If it’s some­thing that I sin­cerely wanted to buy/spend my money on, I’d think about it — but 9 out of 10 times, it’s for things that I don’t care about any­way and the other 1 out of 10 times the fine print turns me off of the deal.

    • I think the French groupon isn’t as good as the North Amer­ica one. I have to be hon­est, some of the deals here are pretty good… and when I checked sim­i­lar French web­sites, I found a lot of fine print as you said. Maybe it’s bet­ter if you live in Paris?

  2. Hello Zhu,

    Girl, I don’t live in a cave and yet I had never heard about Groupon until last week and to tell you the truth it didn’t appeal to me: it seems to be another marketing-magical-wand that hyp­no­tises us into consumerism.

    Two months to get a pedi­cure appoint­ment? Girl, how does one man­age until then, then? lol *nodding*…I could make a joke right now, but I will refrain myself lol.

    Loved the post and keep on hunt­ing them down! lol

    Cheers

  3. Yeah, I’ve noticed these group coupon sites are pop­ping up like mush­rooms after the rain.
    I usu­ally bypass all the din­ing and groom­ing ser­vice offers, but I must admit, some­times magic hap­pens and there are great dis­counted admis­sions to cer­tain muse­ums, exhi­bi­tions and events. Got a really sweet deal on Gun­ther von Hagens’ Body Worlds to get my creep on! :)

    • We don’t have much offers for cul­tural venues here, which is too bad because it’s some­thing I’d buy. Ottawa offers are mostly about food and spa… and some offers are really out­side Ottawa.

  4. I only bought a dis­counted mag­a­zine sub­scrip­tion on one of those sites but I’m kind of wary of those deals.

  5. I use Save.ca which sends me the coupons I want by mail, for free. The only con­di­tion is to request only coupons that you will use (makes sense). I started to look for deals when I had to buy dia­pers for the twins (so expen­sive!!!)… Some­times it’s great but some “deals” are not that inter­est­ing: I don’t really care to save 50cents on laun­dry soap that costs $10 if I can get a cheaper brand for half the price… :)

    • I might sign up as well, see if there is some­thing inter­est­ing. We get a lot of coupons in the mail… and often use the ones for restaurants ;-)

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