We love gourmet pizza and deep tissue massages as much as the next person, but more and more these days, group buying sites seem to proffer a surplus of spider vein treatments and haunted house walking tours.
When we do wade through the mishmosh and take the plunge, we end up with a backlog of random coupons that reads like one strange afternoon--will we really eat at that Tex-Mex restaurant, get a Brazilian wax, and learn to roll sushi--all by April 30th?
We love group buying sites (who doesn't want a great deal?)--Groupon, LivingSocial, BuyWithMe, and way too many others to keep track of. But we're starting not to love the group buying site craziness--combing through bad deals, vetting the decent ones, avoiding getting sucked in by that ticking counter.
Groupon is the new eBay--remember when auction-bidding was the craze? Now it's all about group deal sites. How do we join in on the fun, save a buck, and avoid buyer's remorse? Below, our best tips on navigating Groupon and other social deal sites.
Tip #1: Minimize Inbox Clutter.
It’s great to get a deal, but it’s just not worth our time to trawl site after site or clutter our inboxes. So we like Yipit, which aggregates deals from almost 400 sites. To use Yipit, sign up for a free account, fill in the product categories you care about, and you’ll receive just one daily digest with deals that fit your interests.
In case you're worried that it isn't comprehensive enough, we assure you: Yipit searches everything from the well-known local offerings (like DailyCandy, UrbanDaddy, Lifebooker for spas) to the more specialized ones (WineHeist for wine, Shirt.Woot for cool t-shirts, and Jewpon for--you guessed it--Jewish-themed deals such as kosher restaurants.)
Tip #2: Make Sure The Deal Is Within Your Budget.
In the past, flash sale sites have come under fire for listing false "original prices" (ahem, Gilt Groupe's "Scarf-gate"). While we haven't heard anything similar about Groupon-like sites yet, make sure that you truly vet the deal and check out original prices to be safe. After all, 80% of customers who buy “daily deals” wouldn’t have spent that money otherwise. Your bank account doesn’t know the difference between spending $50 and spending $50 for a deal. So, before you pony up, consider whether you have room for that horseback riding course in your budget—even if it is 70% off.
Tip #3: Scope Reviews Before Buying.
If you're already familiar with or frequent the restaurant/spa/service, it's a no-brainer--grab that deal! You're saving money you'd be spending anyway.
But if you're unfamiliar with the business, which is more likely, always take a few seconds to check local listings and reviews on the establishment. The reason is twofold: One, merchants often sign up because their business is flagging, so make sure the establishment provides quality worthy of your patronage. Two, sometimes reviewers discuss their coupon experience, and you'll be able to tell whether you will be treated well. We all love a coupon, but we don't want to be treated differently for using one. Yelp often features Groupon experience reviews. Some sites like Lifebooker have reviews and ratings built in--make sure to check out other customers' coupon experiences.
Tip #4: Consider It When You Travel.
Most people lock themselves in to deals in their own town. But if you are traveling, these sites provide a great way find cheap hotel rooms, local restaurants and other hidden gems in a new place. Scour national listings in addition to local ones, especially if you’re planning to visit another city. Groupon, for example, services more than 500 different regions and 44 countries.
Tip #5: Remember Coupon Etiquette.
Keep in mind that small businesses, especially restaurants, don’t always come out ahead on voucher deals. Etiquette requires you to tip according to the original full price value of the service, not what you actually paid (some sites have this in fine print as a policy). If you have a poor experience, try to keep your cool. You can always let your tip reflect what you perceive to be a lack of service, and let them know. Afterwards, you can also post a review and let the coupon site know. One restaurant refused to honor our friend’s voucher, so he sent a polite email to LivingSocial, where he bought the deal. The site promptly refunded the money to his credit card. “They were really nice about it,” he said.
Tip #6: Let No Coupon Go To Waste...
It's a little like when you started with eBay--now you have a pile of stuff you're not really sure you wanted. Don't worry, you can re-sell your coupons, too.
- If your coupon hasn't expired yet but you're pretty sure you won't use it, you can resell it on websites like Lifesta, CoupRecoup, and DealsGoRound. Our favorite site for selling is CoupRecoup because it’s free to sell. (When we’re looking to buy, though, we like Lifesta and DealsGoRound because they offer buyer protections to keep us from getting scammed.)
If your coupon has already expired, don't worry--state gift card laws protect you for your original purchase price (not the promotional value). You have two options:
- Call the deal site to ask for a refund. One of our staffers called Groupon three months after the expiration date of her unused Groupon and the representative gave her account credit for the amount she originally paid. Some sites give you a refund back to your credit card. Note: This works for flash sale sites as well, like Gilt.
- You also have the right to ask the merchant directly for your money back, or the equivalent. Some state's gift card laws (like New York's), allow you to claim your gift card credit up to five years after your purchase. (You can look up your own state’s policy here.)
If you have your own tips, please share with us!