/ Money, Shopping

Group buying sites – are they a good deal?


Group buying websites seem to be taking over the internet, bombarding us with offers of 90%-off laser exfoliation and half-price sushi if enough of us get on board. But are they actually as good as they make out?

The internet has an uncanny habit of making you feel like you’re out of touch, and I’ve just had my bubble burst, again.

I’ve been reliably informed that group buying sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Crowdity are all the rage.

Once I clambered out from under my proverbial rock and deleted my MySpace account, I hit the web to see what all the fuss was about.

Group buying sites operate much like traditional voucher sites, offering a significant discount on a luxury item you didn’t know you needed.

The difference is group buying vouchers are typically only on offer for one day, and need a group of people to sign up for them to be activated. Why? A group of people buying supposedly make the deals better for everyone.

Group buying sounds good

It’s big business too. In America, Google tried to buy the biggest such site, Groupon, and was turned down. Copy-cat sites have sprung up everywhere, with Time Out and eBay starting their own group buying sites. Even Google itself has launched ‘Google Offers’ – so if you can’t join them, beat them.

So, discounted products, a free subscription, and all the big players are on board – what’s the catch? Well, some critics have pointed out the nature of the products being offered. First of all they’re ‘luxury’ items.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they’re often products whose true value is hard to ascertain – that discount may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Then there’s the trickier issues found buried in the terms and conditions around price, availability, and whether you can get your money back if something goes wrong.

Glorified voucher codes?

Personally I’m quite happy to be out of touch on this occasion. To me group buying sites are roughly similar to any other deal website out there, like a voucher code site, or promotions on a company’s own site.

A stopwatch counting down the seconds before a deal expires and a counter ticking away the number of people who’ve bought the deal just seems like a recipe for me to buy things I don’t need, and I don’t need a website to help me do that.

There’s also the issue of these sites offering cosmetic treatments, as highlighted by my colleague Joanna Pearl. Just today I found one offering a teeth whitening pen and laser hair removal. Such time limited cosmetic deals could make you buy a treatment without having he time to weigh up the medical implications.

So what do you make of group buying sites like Groupon? Are they really the deal they’re cracked up to be?

Do you use group buying websites, like Groupon?

No (38%, 378 Votes)

Yes (35%, 355 Votes)

Never heard of them (27%, 270 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,003

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I was wary of Groupon even though some of the deals seemed really good – but after researching several of the products, I realised I could a) get them cheaper elsewhere or b) the T&C’s were restrictive so I didn’t bother…..until I saw an offer for a make up day. I did some research and albeit there wasn’t a lot of information out there – there wasn’t anything negative either. The offer was £32 pounds (reduced from £250) so I thought it’s not a huge amount to lose and I may as well test Groupon out. My sister booked the day with me so we were up for a bit of a post Christmas pamper together. We arrived at the road given in the joining instructions and drove up and down it looking for the sign for Nu Look Academy. We could not see the sign anywhere. Luckily, we spoke to two post office workers on separate occasions and they directed us to a house (we even saw post addressed to the company at that address) but they both wished us luck because they said that many people turn up on a Saturday and get no reply. After standing on the pavement wondering what to do, five more girls turned up to do the same course. In the end, instead of learning the ‘smokey eye look’ as promised, the seven of us spent time together making statements at the local police station! The police said that they would be investigating and they will be contacting us again in due course. I have approached my credit card company and also Groupon but as I’ve not had a reply yet, I am unable to comment on the customer service level at this time.

Update following my post on 6th Feb:
Groupon have apologised for the inconvenience and refunded my money back to my card. I had no difficulty in contacting them and I had a swift reply.

Mabel Cheng says:
17 April 2012

I had bad experience with Groupon for a dinner deal in Sydney. I had tried many dates and time once (first day) I received my vouchers (x2 deals) but the deal supplier (partner) responsed (booking by email only ) to different time (whether too early or too late) for the availability. Since there is a fine print of cancellation of purchase is allowed if I emailed to request within 7 days so I did on the first day then I did received a confirmation email of my request (for cancellation) from Groupon on 3 Apr (same day as I sent the request. Til today, I have not hear anything from Groupon, nor no one answer the phone even I tried everyday since 2 weeks ago by contacting Groupon care by phone. I was holding for more than 45 minutes (with their recording msg with excessive customer calls in process) every time I called in every business hours in 2 weeks. I believe the only way I will get response from Groupon is by lodging a complaint to consumer affair. I am so disappointed and have remove Groupon from my shopping list.