Group buying does have downfalls

Groupon and Living Social are 2 sites that have just exploded in popularity the past few months.  They feature a a social feature called “group buying.”  This is where huge deals (often starting at at least 50% off) are offered by merchants once a predetermined number of sales have been reached.  If the required number of sales don’t get made, the deal doesn’t happen.

I’ve bought several of these deals through both sites and have had a relatively good experience with group buying.  There have been two instances when my experience was not so great (with Groupon), and I’d like to share them with you in the hopes that you don’t make the same mistake either.

First, research the merchant.  I cannot stress this one enough.  If I would have more thoroughly researched my bad experience merchants, I wouldn’t have had bad experiences.

The more recent situation actually happened yesterday (6/15/11).  We had purchased a car detail offer through South Dixie Auto Wash for an interior or exterior wash and detail.  At a first glance, the offer looked pretty legit and the website and reviews of the merchant checked out pretty okay also.  Upon arrival, the rudeness and negligence started.  The car attendant gave a pick up time of “afternoon,” when the website had clearly stated it was a two-hour wash — and we had made an appointment to come in.  They did not confirm the services we were going to receive on the car.

At car pick up, we were asked to pay tax because supposedly Groupon doesn’t collect tax. That sounds a little weird, okay – when asked how much the tax was, the response was $20.  Yep – $20!  When asked why so high, the cashier’s response was because it included gratuity (really?  for a car wash?).  Because we thought it sounded a bit off, we asked a gentleman waiting in line behind us and he said tax sounded right but $20 seemed a little high.  We agreed and instead handed over a $5.  Rather than giving us the change, they took the $5 and considered our payment done.  Upon returning home, it was realized that not only did they NOT detail very well, but they stole all the money we had in the car.  Luckily, it was a few dollars worth of loose change – but still.  How are people so dishonest and ruthless?

Secondly, is do not expect to use your Groupon right away.  This incident actually happened last fall so the merchant name has slipped my memory.  We had purchased some gift certificates from what looked like a very reputable massage place.  About a week later, I called to try and make an appointment.  After several tries and no answers or returned voicemails, we found out that this reputable spa actually only had one masseuse – who sold over 800 deals.  Needless to say, I was not going to be getting a massage anytime soon.

With both of these experiences, we filed a complaint with Groupon who promptly credited our account with a refund.  I have to give mad props to them for their outstanding customer service.  I know that they will take care of me if something like this happens again.

The power of deals and social

Many Web sites have come to life the past few months that allow visitors to get some great deals on local businesses – be it restaurants, shopping, activities, and even vacations.  This surge of clicking for your coupons instead of rifling through your Sunday paper and clipping them has made getting deals a LOT easier for mass public.

My favorites?  Groupon, Living Social, and Hautelook.  All 3 of these Web sites require a subscription to view and buy coupons.  Groupon is probably the most popular deal site out there.  It focuses on the power of “group” buying.  Many businesses will set a number – say 50 – deals must be bought before the deal is “on.”  A word of caution – check out the business carefully before buying.  Recently, my  mom purchased a deal for half off massages and found out that the masseuse ran the business by herself – and had sold over 800 Groupons – which resulted in demand not being able to be met and a full refund from Groupon for the unsatisfactory deal.

Living Social is another Web site where you can purchase some great local deals.  The site also offers escapes – which are vacation packages at 40% or higher discounts.  Living Social offers an aspect of group buying where after you purchase a deal, if you can get 3 friends to also buy the deal (using a unique link referrer),  you will end up getting your deal for free.  I find a lot of 2 for 1 deals on this site – such as movie tickets for and a food deal for our local Boro Bistro. They also had a special charity offer for the American Red Cross after the Japan Earthquake – where they matched $5 donations purchased.

Hautelook is a site that offers fashion deals and getaways.  They send daily emails that list the specials that you can purchase.  This is a great place to look for designer or higher-end items at a discount price.  The one thing to be alert about this site – is that items purchased are not shipped right away.  You may have to wait 2-3 weeks to receive your purchase.  Also, clothing selection is often limited – so definitely check the site early when they post their deals to get the best selection of sizes and items.

One last piece of advice for Groupon and Living Social – sign up to mailing lists for not only your local city – but to cities that you often visit.    There are sometimes deals for activities and restaurants that would be of interest to you.  Also – check the status of your purchased Groupons and Living Social deals often.  It’d be a shame to let great deals pass by!