You Get What You Pay For: The Case Against Groupon

by Lauren Bowling on April 2, 2013

grouponI always look for the best deal. In fact, the greatest appeal of shopping (aside from bringing home something shiny and new) is trying to see how far you can stretch your dollar. Who doesn’t want to get as much as they can at the cheapest possible price.

It would shock my readers and friends: I almost never buy Groupon or Living Social deals. Why? Because although I believe in paying the best price for something, I also believe you get what you pay for. While these two ideologies might seem diametrically opposed, I’ve found I have never had to sacrifice one for the other….until I purchased my first Groupon.

It was winter in New York City, I’d just moved there and made friends with a girl I’d met at my office Christmas party. She was a huge Groupon fan and convinced me to purchase one for a jazzercise class we could take together. I was excited about it, until we went and the room was too crowded to dance. After the third week when I collided with a girl and got a pretty nasty bruise on my arm, I gave up. On the class, but not my friend.

I followed her into several hasty Groupon purchases that winter; for the “fantastic” eatery where we scored $50 of food for $25, and had to pay gratuity on the normal price of our bill– way more than we were willing to spend. Or another restaurant where we couldn’t order the famous house specialty, because it wasn’t on the menu offered to Grouponers.

I drew the line when my friend begged me to purchase a groupon for $300 dollars worth of clothes at our favorite boutique. When I went to their “Special Groupon Showroom” I found winter samples I no longer wanted because Spring had arrived. The selection had already been picked over by more spry, skinny women and I couldn’t find anything to fit.

“Do you have anything else in the back?” I asked the sales girl, after being denied access to the spring showroom.

“No. This is all we have.”

“Well then, what am I supposed to do? I’ve paid for this coupon.”

“It says in the fine print we don’t guarantee merchandise.”

I sighed and spent the entire cab ride home arguing with the coupon company on the phone. I got my money back, but swore off mass coupon sites. Some can argue groupon sites can offer you access to things you otherwise couldn’t afford like restaurants, classes or spa services. Still, many don’t realize there are often fees, gratuities or special menus involved. I have another, more forgetful friend who loves to purchase Groupons for medical and spa services like teeth whitening or LASIK. It takes so long to get an appointment, she often forgets she bought the coupon and ends up wasting the money anyway. This is a worst-case scenario obviously, but you get the picture.

In my opinion, I’d rather save up than pay half price for a coupon and get half of an experience.

Have you used Groupon or another daily deals website?  How was your experience?

Image Credit

The following two tabs change content below.

Lauren Bowling

Lauren Bee is a freelance writer and social media specialist based in Atlanta, Georgia. When not writing for One Smart Dollar, she is hard at work blogging over at L Bee and the Money Tree. Lauren enjoys editing, red wine, karaoke and the color pink.

Latest posts by Lauren Bowling (see all)

  • Mrs. 1500

    I use Groupon, Living Social and Deal Radar. I love the savings I get, but always read the fine print before I buy. Whenever we have a problem, they take care of it right away, and I have never had an issue with their money back guarantee.

    That said, I can see your side with some of the issues above. However, as a former waitress, the whole problem with tipping on the original total of the bill thing (which is expressly stated on any Groupon you print out) hits a nerve. It doesn’t take the waitress 50% less effort to wait on your table just because you are paying 50% less. You should tip on the original total of the bill, no matter what type of discount you may be using, coupons, groupons or otherwise. If you have an issue with the service, ask to see the manager.

    I have been able to take services for a test drive before paying full price. I have found two estheticians through Groupon, one of whom was the best I have ever used. Other restaurants have been less than stellar, so I know I don’t have to waste my money on full-priced food there.

    You are absolutely right that some of the more popular services fill up quickly. When you can’t get in during the promotion period, you should just request a refund from the original site.

  • I have never heard of Deal Radar. I will have to check it out.

  • I’ve only used one of these sites once and it wasn’t great. It was a spa day for my sisters bday….waited for the email to come through, never heard anything finally after 2 weeks contacted them after my cc was charged and I never received an e-mail and they told me the spa was going out of business and pulled out of the deal. It took 6 weeks to have my money refunded.

  • I have used these sites a few times, but I have stopped because of how they treat the retailers. The reason you get these deals is because Groupon makes the retailer cut the cost and then charges them a fee to list. The retailer loses money in hopes that they will convert a grouponer into a long time customer, which almost never happens. I work with some of the biggest and smallest retailers and this usually affects the small ones more. They have to add fees in order to make up for the loss in revenue.

    • I completely agree with you that they are bad for the businesses. The problem is that the businesses keep wanting to work with them.

  • My best LivingSocial experience has been when I contacted a company to ask about the fine print, and they said “hey wait a minute, you actually qualify for a promotion we’re starting next week that’s a much better deal than the LivingSocial coupon.” Score! For the most part though, I only use these types of coupons for places I’ve already been before and know I like.

  • psychsarah

    I’ve had some good luck and some not so good luck. I bought a photography deal and the “photographer” was horrid. The photos he produced were worse than snapshots I could have taken myself. He was slow, had no personality (other than rude), and wasted a lot of my time. I complained to Groupon and got my money back, but the experience was extremely frustrating. I rarely buy the deals now unless it’s something I know we’ll use (e.g., money off at a paint store when we’re planning to paint) because the hassle isn’t worthwhile!

  • When I was living in Chicago the companies that own the rooftops across from Wrigley field would run groupon deals for Cubs games. I would take advantage of those because it saved a lot of money.

  • Your photographer sounds like one that my wife and I had from a Groupon deal. 🙂

  • I used to use Groupon, but it seemed like they were alwasy sending me deals I wasnt interested in so I stop using them.

    • I agree that their targeting isn’t very good. They should do a better job sending deals like the ones I have bought in the past.

  • Ogechi

    I completely agree with this post even though I have never used groupon. I’ve always believed in no free lunch and that mentality has saved me. @sean, the reason the small businesses keep wanting to work with groupon even to their detriment is the media hype. They make groupon seem larger than life.

  • I use Groupon occasionally but I do try to be thoughtful about the purchase. Whenever there’s a coupon for Starbucks, I typically purchase it because I buy whole-bean coffee there and the occasional latte. I’ve also bought Groupons to paint ‘n sip classes which turned out to be a pretty sweet deal. The only time I’ve been burned by a Groupon is when I failed to use it. I paid $29 for 10 yoga classes but was unimpressed by the first one I attended. I ended up not going again and paying nearly $30 for one class is pretty ridiculous!

  • It’s interesting to me that companies use Groupon and other sites as “marketing” to “get the word out” then act like every person using the coupon is a scammer. How did the Groupon thing actually help these companies? Would you ever go back to that clothing boutique?

    • psychsarah

      Good point-I felt at some places like the people were angry that I was using what I purchased-certainly not worth the marketing budget, as I didn’t feel like returning after that treatment.

    • I have retured to a couple of places that I used Groupons at, but most places I take the discount that’s it.

  • I have used Groupon and Living Social on occasion but I am always very wary and skeptical of it & always thoroughly read the fine print. Often the “deal” isn’t worth it to me. Typically I also tend to get frustrated with their INSANE amount of emails and end up unsubscribing periodically, then why I buy a new one it starts up all over again. Wish they would learn to share on FB instead of spamming my email. Something that is bad for these businesses on it though, whenever I see one on there, I assume they are in trouble just because I have seen too many businesses on there that shortly after go out of business. I can see why that is though with how much of a cut Groupon takes. One friend of mine debated creating a deal for their business, but it made no sense because they would have to discount their services at least 50% then Groupon would take 50% of that! I prefer Living Social to Groupon generally bc I have heard from small biz owners that they treat them much better. Not sure how long it will stay that way though. I think honestly for the most part most consumers are growing weary of the problems with this industry, I don’t see it being popular for long.

    • I heard a really bad story from a small meat market about how Groupon put the deal live without even getting his final approval.

  • I agree. It will be interesting to see if Groupon is going to be a company that will last for years or if this is more of a short term thing.

  • I agree that the deal is not always what it’s cracked up to be, but I’ve certainly saved more than I’ve lost taking a chance on Groupon. I like it for taking a chance on a restaurant I might not otherwise try, for a fitness class that’s really expensive that I don’t want to pay for before knowing if I like it, or for an established business that I already like. Plus, the coupon is always worth the price you paid for it, so even though I didn’t save $15 at that shoe store, and I still have a $15 coupon I can use next time I go there.

Previous post:

Next post: