They seem to be everywhere lately – you’ve likely seen and heard the advertisements, listened to your friends discuss them, and chances are you even subscribe to a few of them yourself. What am I referring to? The ever-popular group buying deals, of course! Groupon was one of the first sites to really take off in North America, and it wasn’t long before several others followed their lead.
New group buying sites seem to pop up on a daily basis – sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of which site is offering what deal! But with huge discounts offered on local restaurants, stores, spas & other services, what’s not to love, right? Well, unfortunately, not everyone has had great experiences. In fact, it seems like almost everyone who has used a deal site has either had a bad experience or know of someone else who has. And while discounted services can be a great opportunity for companies to drum up new business, many of them have lost money in the end.
We dug up some dirt on a few of the most common deal site complaints and spoke to “real life” folks who wanted to share their stories with us:
The Too Good to Be True Deal
So, you’ve purchased a group buying deal that initially seemed “too good to be true,” but it wasn’t until you either (a) read the fine print, or (b) tried to redeem it did you realize that it was indeed too good to be true.
I just had to share a couple of my own personal “too good to be true” examples:
- I found a deal from a hair salon I actually frequent: $59 for color, cut, wash & blow dry. Considering the normal price is well over $100, and being fairly new to the whole group buying thing at the time, I whipped out my credit card and purchased the deal right away. Only problem was, I didn’t read the tiny print on the bottom of the voucher which read “Valid for new customers only”. I ended up having to pay the full price, but I emailed the deal site and thankfully they did give me a $59 credit.
- Fast forward a couple of months and it’s time to do my roots again. I found an even more awesome deal for a higher end salon – $39 for cut, color, wash & blow dry – wow! I quickly scanned the voucher and didn’t see anything preventing me from using it. So, once again, I whipped out the credit card, printed off the voucher and called to make my appointment. The salon had several locations, so naturally, I picked the one closest to me. However, I soon discovered that the offer was only available at one location, which happened to be the one the furthest distance away from me. I checked the voucher and sure enough, the stipulation was there in even tinier print. Sigh. And, yes, I will be looking for deals on new prescription glasses.
Which brings me to the next group buying complaint:
Misleading / Hidden Cost Offers
Marissa, a personal finance blogger from ThirtySix Months, recently purchased a Groupon deal for eyeglasses: $200 credit for $30. Excited to discover that the store she normally buys her glasses from was offering the deal, she bought one for herself and one for her sister. After maneuvering through the crowded store and finally finding glasses they liked, the sisters were told that the deal could only be used on designer frames. If you’ve ever shopped for eyeglasses, then you know designer frames carry a designer price tag, not to mention the store had added a bunch of extra costs on the Groupon eyeglass purchases, some of which were free if you weren’t using the deal. Basically, the way the deal was structured, it would have cost Marissa double the amount to use the Groupon voucher! Check out her full Groupon Nightmare post.
No Appointments Available
You’ve done your homework, read the fine print carefully, purchased the voucher and are ready to book your appointment. But instead of getting that relaxing massage at the spa within a week or two, the receptionist tells you there’s 6-8 week wait, sometimes even longer. Be prepared to wait weeks or even a few months for an appointment, depending on how many vouchers the business has sold.
Typically, the better the offer the longer wait times for an appointment will be. Also, be aware of the expiry date on your voucher so you don’t end up with one that’s no longer valid. The normal expiration date is about a year from the date of purchase.
Attitude from Staff
You have to wonder why certain businesses even take part in group buying deals when they treat those redeeming vouchers so poorly at times. Andrew Schrage, of Money Crashers uses deal sites on a regular basis and related the following experience he had in a restaurant:
“I had a half-off coupon for dinner. For whatever reason, I had the voucher sitting on the table when the waitress approached. It was early evening and the place was about 1/3 full. I noticed she gave a look when she saw the voucher, but thought nothing of it. So I placed my order and she walked away. As she was passing through the doors into the kitchen (I guess she thought she had made it all the way through and no one would hear her) I heard her exclaim “Hey Bob, I’ve got another couponer on Table 16!” Her voice was filled with sarcasm and disgust, like she would now have to wait on a second-class citizen. Her remark turned the heads of several other diners towards me, but I paid them no heed.”
Speaking once again from personal experience, I too have had staff from various salons, spas and restaurants give me ‘tude the moment I mention my deal site voucher. And like Andrew, I usually brush it off. For the most part staff and certainly business owners have treated me courteously; after all, isn’t their goal to drive and retain new customers? I’ve rarely, if ever gone back to a place that has treated me badly, no matter how good the deal was.
Staff Unaware of the Deal
Has this ever happened to you? You either call to book an appointment or try to redeem your voucher, but the person working there knows little to nothing about the offer. Andrew also told us about this experience he had in an organic grocery store:
“I had $10 off $20 in purchases, but when I approached the cashier, the first thing she said was that they didn’t accept those at that location. When I said that there was no such exclusion on the coupon, she got fairly upset. She did her best to scan it, but found nothing to prove me wrong. She then rudely told me she’d have to go get a manager, and I can guarantee you she made me wait for a longer amount of time than was actually needed as she slowly walked away. Several minutes later, she returned with a manger that overrode the system and entered in my discount.
While some of this frustration may have come from technical difficulties in processing vouchers, I am convinced that some of the negativity came from her viewing me as some sort of freeloader. It also embarrassed me to have to hold up the whole line.”
In one of our email conversations, Andrew brought up a great point – staff should be trained in advance on how to treat customers with respect and dignity, or at the very least educated on the details of the voucher.
Or… how about this alternative to group buying deals?:
Advantages of Shopping Online
Don’t get me wrong – any method of saving money is fabulous and with so many deal sites and businesses using group buying deals, there are bound to be a few bumps in the road. But as I sat waiting for
someone anyone to do my hair the last time I used a salon deal (while everyone except me was served a cafe latte, I might add), I started thinking about the difference between deal site vouchers and online coupons.
Shopping with online coupons is simple: you find the item you want to purchase, search for an online coupon or code, punch it into the little box and voila – instant savings! No calling, no waiting, and best of all – no one judging you! True, there are some services you won’t find online coupons for, such as salons, etc. But if you wanted to save even more you could pick up discounted products and tools online and style your own hair! How’s that for a little food for thought?
Do you have your own group buying disaster, or perhaps even a great deal site experience you’d like to share? We’d love to hear your opinion. Leave us a comment and tell us whether you think group buying deals are worth the hassle or not.