Groupon Brings Coupons into the 21st-Century

I’ve never been much of a coupon clipper, but Groupon has been in the news so much lately (not to mention all over my AdSense) that I had to look into it. Basically, the site brokers deals with local retailers, offering one deeply discounted daily coupon which users can purchase, print, and use like cash. The coupons range all over the retail market, from half-price hotel rooms to clothing deals to slashed concert tickets.

I signed up for Groupon last Monday and got my first daily deal the following Tuesday. It was a coupon offering $40 worth of services at a local salon for only $20. I was initially excited, because my hair looks like someone ran over it with a vacuum, but unfortunately, I didn’t  read Groupon’s fine print properly.

Namely, I thought I had to not only purchase but redeem the coupon on the same day it was offered. So I looked up the salon’s hours, discovered they are closed on Tuesdays and thought I’d stumbled onto some big Groupon conspiracy to rip off suckers. Well, there’s no conspiracy, I just didn’t practice my close reading skills. The truth: once the coupon is emailed to you, you usually have 48 hours to purchase it, and most of the coupons are then valid for at least the next year.

Since Groupon gets businesses to sign up to take a loss on certain services/products by offering an influx of new customers, there’s a minimum number of Groupon users who must order a coupon for it to be valid. For example, today’s deal–$30 worth of organic groceries for $15–had a minimum purchase rate of 50 Groupon members, and the deal went through because, last I checked, at least triple that number of people wound up ordering the coupon. Important to know: If you order a coupon that winds up being an unpopular dud, Groupon doesn’t charge your credit card.

One more thing that makes Groupon different from regular ol’ paper coupon magazines is that people can buy and gift multiple Groupons. That organic grocery deal allows for one individual purchase and four gift purchases. I don’t know if I would gift anyone in my life groceries, but if you know some friends would be interested in an outing, you could snag coupons for, say, discounted museum tickets for yourself and your buds.

There’s been a bit of a hubbub, at least over at the NYT, about whether or not Groupon is really good for small businesses. Because I have a heavy case of Protestant Guilt (not just for Catholics anymore!), I felt a tiny twinge looking at some of Groupon’s awesome deals and thinking, “These businesses are only doing this because they’re going under and the economy is so bad and if I take advantage of this it’s like I’m just another cutthroat consumer who doesn’t care about the little guy behind the counter, etc., etc.”  At the end of the day though, all an individual can do is let their conscience be their guide and make a personal commitment not to exploit services like Groupon.

On that note, things I culled from NYT commenters led me to create a short list of Dos and Don’ts for Groupon users:

DO tip based on what the total of your service/meal would have been WITHOUT the coupon. Otherwise you’re just gypping people.

DON’T attempt to buy yourself multiple coupons and then redeem them, if your coupon specifies “Limit 1 per user.” I came across several small business owners who were ticked about how many Groupon members tried to do this.

DON’T wait until the last minute to use your coupon. Of course, it’s your money and you can do what you please, but several restaurant/salon owners mentioned everyone trying to schedule a meal/service for the day before their coupon’s expiration, which is clearly a nightmare.

DO consider spending more than the coupon amount, if you can, bearing in mind that business owners are already offering you a product/service at an average of one-quarter of its value (most Groupon deals are 50% off, and Groupon pockets 50% of the remaining revenue).

I looked back over coupons that have been offered recently in my city, and I’ve seen quite a few great deals, including $45 worth of food at a fine dining restaurant for only $18, and $30 for a rafting trip that’s usually priced at $64. I haven’t purchased any coupons yet, but I’m going to keep my eyes peeled, particularly for restaurant deals.

Do any of you use Groupon, and have you found any great deals?

2 replies on “Groupon Brings Coupons into the 21st-Century”

I love groupon. It’s been great for trying out things I couldn’t afford normally, and I also use it for places where I’m a regular when they come up. In the city where I live, the performing arts centers will also sometimes use it to fill up empty seats when they have a lot a week or so before a show so I’ve gone to some great performances. I live in a big city and groupon is established here, so I’d be shocked if any of the deals didn’t sell enough to get the coupon, but this might be different in other areas where the site hasn’t been around as long.

I don’t know about salons, but I wouldn’t categorize any of the restaurants or retailers I’ve bought groupons for as struggling, so I usually don’t feel badly about it. Many of them are well established local spots or even local chains.

I live in Colorado Springs (only about half a million) people, so I agree that size really effects who uses Groupon and why. And I also suspect many of the NYT commenters complaining about Groupon being bad for business are exemplifying that rule of the internet, that people are far more willing to take the time to write a bad review than a good one.

I’ve been on the look-out for theater or concert tickets, but so far haven’t come across any (though I haven’t been using Groupon long either). I suspect, because skiing and outdoor adventures are so popular here, that accounts for the heavy number of sports packages I’ve seen, both in current and old examples of Groupons.

I’m glad you’ve had a good experience; I’m hoping if I stick with it for long enough, I’ll come across some good stuff.

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