As a consumer, I have a love/hate relationship with social couponing sites. I enjoy doing stuff and I like saving money, so when they first hit the scene a few years ago, I happily purchased a half-off meal here, a housecleaning there.
But as time went by, I noticed expiration windows were getting shorter, and in the firehose of work/kids/school/activities that is most people’s lives, who remembers that they need to hustle out to that gourmet spice shop to select their artisanal salt trio? The allure of hot rock massages cools off quickly when there’s never any time to schedule or redeem them.
Now if the coupon expires, instead of just losing the money altogether (which used to be the case until customers started complaining), you’re left with the dollar value of the coupon. This forces you to either lose the money or spend it to purchase stuff you probably didn’t want in the first place, like organic rose water or toe brightening polish. Yay…not really.
My favorite story about a daily deal gone bad is from my friend Angie. An adventuresome woman, she had purchased what was billed as a “wine and cheese rafting trip” for herself and her husband. They ended up in a van deep in the woods with a toothless, mumbling guy and his partner, a seven-foot man with a hunting knife strapped to his belt. Eventually, they arrived at a small inflatable raft with a styrofoam cooler stocked with a half-eaten block of cheese and some Triscuits. The wine, it seems, was meant to be purchased at the gas station where they all met up (given the circumstance, they had opted not to.) The men kept glancing nervously at each other as they floated down the river, occasionally pointing at a tree or a crow or a stick. Angie kept envisioning these being the last moments of her life, ending a la Girl with the Dragon Tattoo style because, like that killer’s victims, she and her husband were simply too polite to say anything (“Excuse me, fellows, are you planning on beheading us then leaving our bodies in the river? Because if so, we’d prefer that not to happen.”).
Potentially murderous woodsman aside, there are many other reasons why daily deals can suck for consumers. I’ve noticed how surly businesses can be when you mention you have a coupon. For example, I called to schedule a car cleaning I bought in March (well within the expiration date for the coupon) and the man said they couldn’t schedule me until August! Seriously, six months out to vacuum my Prius? Suffice to say, when the appointment time finally rolled around, I wasn’t even in the state. So much for that money. And a handyman service I purchased just never called me back. Maybe his handywife decided he was needed at home.
Because I’ve written on this subject, I also know that sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and their ilk are not really that great for most businesses. For example, the stats show places like restaurants get very little repeat business from social coupons, instead appealing not to people looking for a new favorite place to become a regular but to deal-hunting cheapskates who rarely even leave good tips for their servers. Sometimes a Groupon deal will sell so many that it leaves a small business scrambling to fulfill orders that are making them very little (if any) profit, especially once the deal site takes their cut. Small wonder that daily deal services are struggling and people (like myself) seem increasingly ambivalent about using them. (For in-depth statistics on this topic, see MailChimp’s recent Daily Deal Study).
Despite the angst they’ve caused me, I still receive two to three deals offers a day. I should really take Amy Ellis’ advice and turn off the radio. But maybe not until I’ve tried that new Hawaiian restaurant downtown, and say this resort on Orcas Island looks nice…