Jumpin’ On It: T2’s Thoughts on Group Buying Websites

23 Oct

*This post was by T2, a co-author of In The Taratory from 2011-2013.*

This time last year, many of you would probably not have even heard of the concept of group buying. But 2011 has seen the popularity of this new way of snagging discounts on products and services soar, with the industry predicted to be worth A$400 million by year’s end. Living Social, Spreets, Scoopon, Jump On It, OurDeal, Cudo, Ouffer – the list of companies cashing in on the craze goes on…

The premise is simple: sign up through their website and receive ‘daily deals’ relevant to your city/region directly to your inbox. If one of the advertised deals takes your fancy, click ‘Buy!’ and, providing that you’ve bought within the allotted time frame (usually 2-3 days) and enough other people have also clicked ‘Buy!’, then voila – deal done! If a set number of buyers aren’t reached, then no one gets the deal. Given the popularity of most deals, though (and there really is something to suit everyone – hair and beauty treatments, laser hair removal sessions, harbour cruises, Blue Mountains abseiling tours, jet boat rides, cooking classes, girls-only car mechanics workshops… you want it, you got it!), I’ve yet to hear of this happening. Once the deal’s advertising period expires, your credit card is charged and a virtual coupon is sent to your email for printing. Take this with you to the vendor and redeem the deal. What a straight-forward, great idea – right?!

Well, a lot of people apparently think otherwise. A recent news.com.au article reported on the hundreds of complaints made to coupon companies over the past couple of months, with stories of vendors refusing to honour coupons, misleading terms and conditions, unreasonable waiting periods for the delivery of goods ordered online, and downright dodgy service. You just needed to scroll through a couple of pages of comments to get the general gist: these customers were bloody pissed off. The ACCC has now warned the industry that they are ‘on the radar’. So, what do I reckon – can these sites be trusted? Should you take advantage of these ridiculously cheap deals, and run the risk of getting a dodgy product/service? Well, obviously I can’t speak for all group buying sites, but I can give you a quick overview of my experiences – and from there, it’s up to you to make that decision whether to ‘Jump On It’ or not…

I’ve been a regular subscriber to the various group-buying sites for most of this year. I’ve bought close to twenty deals now (which is nothing, compared to some of my other coupon-crazy friends!). While Canberra-based deals were a late addition to the sites (Living Social and GrabOne are currently the main players here), my last boyfriend lived in Sydney, so I bought quite a few NSW deals before Canberra businesses came on board. My purchases have included:

  • $500 worth of laser hair/skin treatments – $39
  • Two Thai entrees + main meals + drinks + movie tickets – $39
  • Full day Hunter Valley wine tour with three-course lunch – $49
  • Body pamper + colon hydrotherapy package – $99 (and that’s another story!!)
  • Eight beginner salsa lessons – $19
  • Breakfast for two + coffees at ‘As Nature Intended’ – $15
  • A 60-page hardcover photo book (including delivery) – $29
  • $50 worth of products from Vista Print – $10
  • A month’s worth of unlimited DVD hire with Quickflix – $1
  • $150 worth of wedding products from Pink Frosting – $50

That’s a good couple of hundred bucks worth of deals right there – and I can honestly say that I haven’t yet experienced anything close to the horror stories exposed in those news articles. Sure, I’ve had to wait a couple of weeks before booking in to some places, but this is to be expected when 2,000 others have bought the same deal as you! The Hunter Valley wine tour deal was an absolute winner. My friend and I were quite smug about the fact that we were on the bus with tourists who’d paid well over $150 for the same experience. Three wineries and one three-course lunch later, we were very content indeed!

The salsa lessons at Canberra’s Salsambador dance school were another ripper deal. For the cost of one casual lesson, I shimmied my way through eight classes and had a fabulous time. None of the classes were overfull, and the owners had set up a smooth system for dealing with the Living Social customers.

I’m also a big fan of the discounts for online products. I finally got all my New Zealand holiday snaps printed in a beautiful photo book, which I put together easily using provided software. I’ve just signed up for another couple of photo book deals after the success of the first – they’ll make great Christmas presents for my hard-to-buy-for friends. And, after being asked to be bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding in June, the Pink Frosting deal was a lifesaver when it came to organising decorations for her hen’s night. The personalised ‘Future Mrs. Crowley’ embroidered sash went down extremely well with the bride-to-be!

So, I’ve obviously been pretty fortunate with my experiences so far. I do know that other people have been burnt, though – the comments in response to the news.com.au article are testament to this fact. As a relatively seasoned coupon-buyer, I’ve put together five tips for those who have yet to make the leap into the world of online coupon buying:

1. Do your research. Who is this company you’re buying from? Do they have a good reputation, or are they using the deal for some quick cash flow to save their flagging business from going under? Some group-buying companies allegedly allow businesses to sell thousands of coupons, without ensuring that they have the capacity to honour them all. I spoke with the owner of a Sydney beauty salon, who had strictly capped numbers for their pamper package deal to 200. I’d booked early, luckily, but the salon was apparently booked out on Saturdays for the next six months straight. The owner said she’d heard of other businesses in the area who had let their deal sales go uncapped, and then struggled for months on end to meet their obligations. It seems many businesses that partner with the coupon companies are overwhelmed by the resulting demand, and don’t know how to manage the influx of customers. My advice is to take note of how many other people have already bought the deal. If the tally is at 5,000 buyers, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to book in for the deal anytime soon, and that you shouldn’t be expecting the highest level of customer service when you do finally get in. Which leads me to my next tip…

2. Book EARLY! If you have a date in mind, get on the phone the minute your coupon is sent to you. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate – believe me, I know this from experience. While my Hunter Valley wine tour was amazing, we had originally purchased the coupon in February. After umm-ing and ahh-ing for a couple of weeks about dates that would suit, the earliest we could book in for was September. Seven months later! Needless to say, we were quite thirsty for that wine by the time our tour date rolled around. Based on this first-in-best-dressed system, coupon deals may not be the best option if you want to go to that restaurant/hairdresser/laser technician on a specific date. Sometimes, you’ll just have to suck it up and pay full price for the privilege of choosing your ideal time and date.

3. Read the terms and conditions VERY carefully before clicking ‘Buy!’. I’m all for living life spontaneously and know how fun it can be to make impulse purchases, but I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Firstly, make a note of days and times that the deal won’t be available. What’s the use of buying a breakfast deal that’s only valid for weekdays, when you have work commitments every weekday morning? Or snapping up a fabulous dinner deal that, when you read the small print, can only be used between 5-5.30? Nada. Also make sure you know how long you’ve got to redeem the deal, as some will expire very quickly. A few of the sites have a handy system set up, which sends email reminders if a coupon’s expiry date is nearing. But this doesn’t account for the fact that you actually have to book in for the deal – by which time, it may be too late. Ya snooze, ya lose.

4. Be realistic with your expectations. Too many people expect something for practically nothing, and are bound to be disappointed with the outcome. So, you spent $29 on a voucher for a full head of foils, with complimentary champagne, a head massage, hair treatment, a style cut and $50 voucher for your next visit – and, after thousands of other girls have bought the same voucher, you expect to get immaculate service?! Sure, in an ideal world, businesses should aim to provide the best experience possible – but this certainly isn’t always going to be the case. It’s for this reason that I steer clear of deals that sound too good to be true. In my opinion, there’s some things that really are worth paying the extra money for. I’d prefer to pay full-price for a car service and know that my little Toyota has been checked thoroughly, rather than rushed through with all the other coupon customer’s cars. (Businesses who provide mediocre service to coupon customers are bloody silly though, in my opinion. These deals get people in the door that probably wouldn’t have gone there otherwise – all it takes is one bad experience, and they will never return! Plus, they’re then likely to tell all their impressionable mates about the business’s negative aspects. There goes another potential twenty patrons! Ah, the power of word-of-mouth advertising…)

5. Don’t go overboard. The problem with these sites is that they can be quite addictive. Once you’ve made one purchase, the site remembers your details. This means that you can mindlessly keep clicking ‘Buy!’ without truly keeping track of what you’ve bought and used. Before you know it, you’re stuck with a mountain of coupons that all need to be redeemed by the end of the month. Apparently, there’s now a site where you can onsell unwanted coupons to others. This seems like a lot of hassle, though. Why not just be levelheaded, and only buy one or two deals at a time? Then, once you’ve used these deals, buy another couple. (Gosh, that’s sensible advice coming from a self-confessed shop-a-holic…)

So there you have it. I’ll definitely buy more deals in the future, but I know that I’ve gotta remain vigilant. If something smells fishy or too good to be true, I’ll simply give it a miss. Or, hey, I might even go to an actual shopping centre and pay full price. There’s an idea…

Want More? http://www.grabone.com.au/canberra or http://livingsocial.com

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One Response to “Jumpin’ On It: T2’s Thoughts on Group Buying Websites”

  1. Captain Sweatpants October 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Wow. I’ve never heard about these things before… If they do anything with suits, you have yourself a convert.
    I’m packing my backpack, doing my homework and putting on a uniform,cause I’ve just been schooled 😛

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