7 Tips for Navigating Group-Coupon Sites
Sorting Through the Discounts
Can you remember a time when your in-box wasn’t chock-full of daily deals for yoga classes, laser hair removal, and two-for-one artisan hot dogs? The question now becomes not so much how to find the deals, but how to wade through all the e-mails to nab things you genuinely want—and can make happen before the looming expiration date. Read on for tips from the pros on how to navigate today’s group-buying sites effectively to avoid buyer’s remorse, not to mention botched haircuts.
Only See What You Want to See
If you’re not in need of spider-vein treatments and you hate Indian food, then odds are you’re going to get frustrated if offers for both those things keep popping up in your e-mail. The good news is that you can change that. “Know yourself and your preferences, and it’s easy to manage your subscriptions,” says Maire Griffin, director of communications for LivingSocial. Customize your profiles to help ensure that you’re seeing only the things that you’re truly interested in.
Family activities, food offerings, travel packages, adventure outings—just let the sites know where your passions lie and they can send you the deals that make sense in your daily life. (AmazonLocal lets you go in and select subcategories of deals you might receive to ensure that you’re laying eyes on options targeted to your interests.) And preferences can be adjusted, so if you suddenly swear off nail salons or decide to go to Paris for a month, you can keep your deals in tune with your life changes.
Know the Drill Ahead of Time
If there are a few different group-deal sites that you might buy from, it’s always wise to familiarize yourself with their basic purchase policies from the get-go. “If you already know what’s included and you’re on the train to work and you see a good deal, you don’t need to wait to get to your desk to read more before you buy it,” says Julie Mossler, director of communications for Groupon. Take a few minutes to understand the site’s overall rules and return policies so you can click Buy with confidence. (This doesn’t get you out of reading the fine print on each deal you consider purchasing. That’s always a must.)
Think of Your Budget
Keep in mind that just because something is a great deal doesn’t mean it’s great for your budget. (Sixty percent off a trip to China sounds incredible, but if you’re already wincing when you get your credit-card statements each month, then that math definitely doesn’t add up.) “To trick yourself into not overspending, remember that you don’t need to click ‘buy’ on a deal right away,” says Christine Frietchen, editor in chief at ConsumerSearch.com. “It will probably be there all day without selling out, so wait until noon and check back in to see if you really want it.”
Also be sure to pay close attention to what’s not included in the experience-type deals. They can often require travel expenses that go beyond the cost of the voucher. The flip side of all the budget warnings is that if you decide to test out committing to group deals for your monthly entertainment budget and you have $200 to spend, you could wind up with $400 worth of fun. “And then you might find that you don’t have to choose between a nice dinner or go-karting with your partner. You can do both,” says Mossler.
Do Your Due Diligence
If you believe the write-ups on the site, just about every deal sounds as if it will be the greatest single regret of your life if you don’t immediately snatch it up. “Ignore the flowery descriptions on the site and do your homework,” says Frietchen. If a deal is for a service or a place you’re not familiar with, take a few minutes to read online reviews. (Yelp is a good place to start.) Keep an eye out for reviews that mention people’s experiences using discount vouchers—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
If the deal you’re considering is for a service, such as a massage or hair coloring, call the merchant before you buy to check availability on the days you want. After all, if you’re set on a Saturday-morning massage and they’re fully booked every Saturday for the next four moths, you’ll want to keep clicking elsewhere. The same holds true for travel and hotel deals: Be sure to scope out blackout dates before you commit.
Use It or (Kind of) Lose It
The second you purchase a deal, the clock is counting down for you to use it before it expires. So why not make it easy on yourself? If it’s a voucher for an appointment-based service, call to schedule it right after you make your purchase. Stick the appointment in your calendar and you’re good to go. If it’s a deal that you can use anytime (think cupcakes or oil changes), mark the expiration date in your calendar and set yourself a reminder two or three weeks earlier. Some sites may offer an automatic e-mail reminder several days before the deal expires.
But even if all those reminders don’t save you from procrastination tendencies, all is not lost if you do find yourself with an expired voucher. Even after the expiration date passes, some merchants allow you to use a voucher for the value you paid for it. For instance, if you bought $20 worth of frozen yogurt for $10, your voucher may well be worth $10 at the yogurt shop. Essentially, the voucher turns into a form of store credit. However, this practice varies among vendors. The amount of time the credit is good for is another variable. And the state in which you reside can also be a factor.
Friends = Freebies
LivingSocial offers a promotion that lets you use a little bit of your gift of gab and a lot of your gift of social media to earn yourself a free deal. “When you buy a voucher, you get a unique URL that you can send out via social media. If you get three of your friends to buy the deal, LivingSocial picks up your tab and your deal is free,” says Griffin of Living Social’s Me+3 promotion. Considering that the promo applies to all of the site’s offers—including travel deals (remember that trip to China?)—it has the potential to net you a big reward for a little old-fashioned salesmanship.
Even if your powers of persuasion and status as a trendsetter don’t get you free deals at every site, you may still be able to earn points or discounts through unique-URL referrals. Friends’ purchases via Kgbdeals using your unique URL can earn you “kgbkash,” which should qualify you for discounts on your future purchases.
Fickleness Is OK
Perhaps the least-known fact about many of these group-buying sites is that you can change your mind about a purchase and get your money back or credit (unredeemed and/or unprinted vouchers). Typically, the restriction is that there are only a certain number of days after purchase that the return offer stands. With LivingSocial, you can let the site know (even via Twitter) within five days that you want to return a voucher, and you have 30 days to return a travel deal. “You get a full refund to your credit card, no questions asked,” says Griffin. In most cases, Groupon will provide site credit toward a future purchase. And Kgbdeals may offer a refund within seven business days of a voucher delivery if you change your mind. (After you come to the conclusion that liposuction is not a step that you’re ready to take, perhaps?)