Today we take a look at Groupon.com, which sells limited-time offer deep discounts on products, services, and restaurants.
I was instantly amused by Groupon when it first came out because it is for people who are openly too cheap to pay full price for things. But even more interesting, a lot of Groupon content appears to be marketed to people who are willing to fling themselves into the galaxy of consumer randomness to get a deal. Glow in the dark mini golf? What the heck is that and is it even safe?? But sure, sounds exciting, I’m in! Acupuncture? Never tried it, but I can get over my fear of needles because it’ll be cool! Customized family genealogy? Why not… I have always wanted to do this but for some reason never have…
These are scenarios I imagine that would be no-no ways to Groupon. But I too have been burned by Groupon:
- The 15 miles-away museum. I should have known I would never bring myself to drive 15 miles to go to a museum. What’s more, the Groupon expired 8 months after I bought it, which fell during the summer. So in the critical months leading up to the expiration date, of course I did not want to be indoors. And 8 months is too long! Some holidays go by, you do your taxes, rotate your spring wardrobe, and before you know it you forget you even had the thing. An overly long period is a red flag to me because I lose track of things.
- The unknown fabric store. I should say that sewing is like my tertiary hobby at this point: it is the hobby I wish I were really good at. Do not buy a Groupon for a hobby you struggle with in the first place! Also, the detail of having never been to this store and the prospect of locating it with the GPS while driving dampened my interest ultimately.
The common theme with these two Groupon womp womps is that they are not totally pertinent or required, and they are outside my usual traveling circle. Inconvenient and easy to forget about. In fact, as I am sure many of you clever people have also suspected, I assume that forgetting to use the Groupon altogether is a major part of the Groupon profit strategy. How, I have no idea.
I have not done any research into this, but I assume there is some arrangement between Groupon and vendors in which vendors pay Groupon to advertise, and for each Groupon sold. And then the vendors expect you to come and spend twice as much as the Groupon redemption value. So I am not sure who stands to profit from consumers failing to use the Groupon. But the consumer certainly stands to lose!
So I give you: my tips for Grouponing like a pro and avoiding getting suckered.
- The absolute necessity you don’t give a crap about. What paradox might this be? Here’s one of mine: haircuts. Have to get them, would like a nice one, but definitely do not care where or whether I have a report with the hair artiste. So sticking to my “keep it local” rule, I look for ones within 1 town away. Or quantified by the lesser of the cheapest random haircut in my town, or the best Groupon value (factoring in Yelp reviews) with $0.50/mile added for every extra round trip mile beyond the location of the in-town hairdresser. You would be surprised that cuts at random places in my town cost $35. And yet sometimes an enticing $25 Groupon for a place 10 miles out of town loses its luster when the car mileage raises the cost to $35 and makes me sit in local traffic for 30 more minutes than the local place would.
- The once-in-a-lifetime undifferentiated experience: a good example here is Lasik. I know different people who have had it, most of whom got it through Groupon. All eye doctors probably have the same or similar Lasik machines, or even share them across practices. Lasers and Yelp reviews being equal, why pay full price…
- The dream gift for your parent. My mom has wanted a GPS for ages, so sure, I was scanning Groupon pretty hard back around the holidays. I think of GPSes as reasonably undifferentiated like Lasik lasers. If you can find a brand you like, I think it is justified to get an extravagant model at half price for your loved one. As it turns out, I did not see any Groupon GPS deals and wound up getting a more basic model at Best Buy.
- The dinner with your friends THIS FRIDAY. Emphasis on this Friday because if you get other people involved, timeliness is critical. People like to go out to eat or do whatever, and Groupon can provide a fun alternative to the usual burritos. But it absolutely has to be within 72 hours, with fun-loving rascals who you can count on to be all in.
So those are some examples I have noted for high success rate. What they have in common is necessity, or at least thoughtful commitment, time-sensitivity (or irrelevance in the case of products), and realistic scenarios. I have seen some out-there Groupons, and they could be a lot of fun and great memories, but I would think twice about making a money commitment without a concrete plan. Stick to essentials. Plan the Maine White Water Rafting trip very carefully, foregoing the 3-days-only Groupon if you have to. You can always offset the price by camping and enjoying the majesty of the great outdoors for free.