True Confessions: I Was a Group Sales Addict

True Confession: I’m a former group coupon addict who trolled various group buying sites to find great deals. For an embarrassingly long period of time, every mani-pedi, date-night dinner, walking tour and fitness class I participated in was paid for using a group coupon.

This worked out well. My nails never looked better, until I started to notice a drastic change in quality and level of service I was receiving from businesses where I used my deal. The change, which happened to correspond to LivingSocial’s partnership with Amazon and Groupon’s IPO, meant that my foolproof way of living large on a budget was coming to an end. *Sigh.*

I started to notice that group-buying coupon users received different, and many times worse service than other customers. I had a series of coupons I couldn’t use because the places went out of business (in one case, within two weeks of me buying the coupon). So in an effort to help others avoid my pain, I put together five reasons why you SHOULD NOT use group coupon sites.

5 Reasons Why You SHOULD NOT Use Group Coupon Sites

1. Lots of Deals from Bad Businesses. While there’s still some awesome businesses offering deals on these sites, a good percentage of the deals are actually for businesses that have horrible Yelp ratings. Like “I-would-never-ever-go-if-I-had-to-pay-full-price” Yelp ratings.

So what do we have to back this up? We looked at the deals for New York and Los Angeles for the top three group buying sites: Groupon, LivingSocial and Bloomspot. The average Yelp rating for the businesses that were offered was three stars. Three-star businesses use group coupon sites because they need extra encouragement to get people in the door.

The group buying sites know this, so they’ve tightened their return policies. Basically, you’re buying it “as-is.”

2. It can be impossible to get a refund, even if it is NOT your fault. I bought a deal for cooking lessons from one of the top group deal sites and immediately contacted the company to set up a lesson. I was told that they weren’t doing any classes right now (which is strange, considering I just bought the deal) and that someone would e-mail me once they had the new schedule.


A month went by, I contacted them again, and was told the same thing. Another month went by and I finally received a notice–from the group buying site saying that the coupon was about to expire. I contacted the company again and received no response. So I contacted the group buying site and was told that I wouldn’t receive a refund because–wait for it–the coupon had expired.

Now, Groupon does offer a pretty easy return policy and makes it fairly simple. However, many of the other sites (and you know who they are) make you cartwheel through flaming hoops in order to get a refund.

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  1. Krista says

    I used groupon once and my experience was fine, but I will never use them again. I know a lot of high quality small businesses here in Florence that have used them and NONE of them speak well of the experience. 100% say they will never do it again. One amazing family-run restaurant used them and groupon forgot to put a maximum number of coupons. So many people bought it in the first day that within the validity period they physically couldn’t accommodate everyone and had to turn everyone away. People who dont know how Groupon works may have thought it was the restaurants fault and that they were taking their money. In fact businesses only get about 50% of the coupon value and only after going through a long claims process.
    I’m all for great deals but not at the expense of small businesses!!

  2. An Employee says

    As someone who works for one of the big three group buying sites I can’t speak for two of the three but we have rigorous standards for vetting business (minimum number of Yelp or various reviews, FB presence). You need to check your information regarding the validity of Yelp as well. Yelp has several law suits against them for the way they do business. They charge merchants for those reviews and filter reviews of people who refuse to pay 3-400 a month to them. Furthermore, if businesses are treating you poorly maybe it’s due to the fact that many group coupon buyers don’t tip appropriately…who knows…maybe they remembered you from last time as a chronic deal chaser.

    • TBF says

      @An Employee. Here’s the deal. Your answer speaks for itself. Rather than improving your business model, you insult the customer. The issues with group buying sites are WELL documented, especially from the merchant/retailer end (NYT, WSJ, etc). You see, we here at TBF actually research our articles and have long term relationships with quite a few retailers who REFUSE to use the group buying sites because your sites don’t help them acquire new customers.

      From the customer side of things, we were one of the FIRST sites to review and use group coupon sites and thought it was a great way to help people a) find new places/retailers and b) help our audience get services they would otherwise never be able to afford. Also, those serial “Group coupon buyers” are part of your customer base, are you saying you don’t want these people to use your services? Seriously, get over yourselves.

      Also, what does tipping have to do with good service when I AM A NEW CUSTOMER??? There’s no tipping history to go by (by the way I’m a great tipper for various reasons which is a whole new post itself).

  3. Dale says

    I use Groupon nearly exclusively for the very reasons Katherine lists. I’ve had a fair amount of time and purchases from them. They are VERY quick to refund if there’s the slightest complaint about a business.

    I’ve had the experience of buying a remote start from a very tiny family-owned business. The young men running the mechinal portion of things were doing a sort of bait and switch – telling customers (especially women customers) that an expensive retrofit was necessary for foreign cars. The alternative was to use one of the remote control keys to jerry rig another way to get the starter to work. But replacing the key would’ve been $210.00 at my Honda dealer – more than the extra fee fix for the actual electronics needed.

    But I know a bit about cars – especially foreign ones built on U.S. assembly lines (Toyota being built in Kentucky on a domestic car brand line, for example). They pulled this line on a woman who was just ahead of my appointment and I informed her (after reading that her Toyota was built here) that they were ripping her off. She didn’t do anything about it but I certainly spoke up when it was my turn. I’d told them repeatedly over the phone to use the extra key (I had a friend who could give me a new one from another Honda dealership that was less than half the price quoted from my dealership and less expensive than the equipment these guys wanted to use). They installed the equipment anyway without my knowledge and I told them I wouldn’t pay for something I specifically told them not to install.

    After some back and forth I ended up paying the discounted key price and then I called Groupon. Without ANY argument whatsoever, after hearing the circumstances, they refunded me the entire amount I paid for the remote start deal in the next 24 hours. They also terminated their relationship with that garage after other complaints came in. The price I ended up paying for the remote start was $50 less than the deal itself!

    As for Living Social, YP deals and Amazon deals I only do online deals for things like deeply discounted magazine subs and small goods that can be returned. I recommend other users follow this method as well and you’ll be a MUCH happier consumer.

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