/ 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’m fed-up seeing adverts for Groupon on websites, so I won’t be using their services.

With the exception of Tesco (where I don’t have a convenient alternative) I avoid using companies that annoy me. I have never heard of the other companies you mention, so they are not blacklisted.

Jayne says:
1 June 2011

I’m getting married this summer and so far all the beautifying I wish to do for my wedding – hair cut and colour, manicure, pedicure, waxing, false eyelashes, spray tan – and my wedding jewellery – have been purchased from one of the group buying websites.

It means I have to trawl through lots of rubbish emails to find anything I want but it has been worth it for me to keep the cost down.

I think if you ensure you don’t buy everything you like the look of then they’re great – but they can’t last forever. Soon they will reach saturation point or the businesses will realise they’re not getting repeat business from them and they’ll all dry up.

But for now – keep em coming!

That’s interesting – a group buying wedding. So it seems that if you’re looking for something specific and are willing to put the time in, they can offer a good deal?

Also, if you want to save on your wedding, Rich Dilks has put together his top tips to beat wedding costs: https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/13-ways-to-have-a-wedding-on-a-budget/

Jenny says:
1 June 2011

Can I add http://www.TipToken.co.uk to this list? I have to declare a connection, I know one of the guys involved, but they are very good. Also a big fan of Groupon/Living Social et al, but you have to be very careful about the deal you buy – I sometimes forget use them. You also should always google the product first just to see the real discount.

I love the idea of a group buy wedding – how did you find it in terms of being able to actually book into things on time? It can be a problem getting an appointment when you buy with 1000 other people…

Jayne says:
1 June 2011

I started booking things months ago as soon as I saw a deal that was available on the dates I wanted it. That way, I found I didn’t have a problem as everyone else wanted a few weeks ahead instead of a few months.

Well – I’ve been group buying dog food and dog gear for years – with excellent savings – and didn’t need the Internet to do it until recently. We started with our kennels supplies (wholesale) then found by including our adopters we could save more (bulk) – then we opened it to any related dog owner who would collect..

Incidentally I also bought electrical and building materials trade for years until the high street dropped their prices to the same level.

I often use group-buying websites for deals at nice restaurants, or an evening out, but I am a bit worried (not to mention annoyed) at the sheer amount of cosmetic treatments offered. Do they target their emails? Because I can’t imagine men being happy to be bombarded with as many offers of laser hair removal as I get.

I’d also be very interested to know if the ‘original’ price is actually that – do these places ever sell their laser hair removal for three grand, and then generously discount it to £200 in an email deal? I’m not sure. Often the things offered seem like a good deal, but not nearly the spectacular bargain that’s implied by the headline “90% discount!” in the subject line.

Leslie says:
3 June 2011

I’ve used GroupOn for a year or so now and have found it to offer some genuinely good deals.
As always, though, it’s ‘buyer beware’ – if you can’t be bothered to research the market to be sure the deal on offer is a good one that’s down to you.
Fyi, GroupOn gave me excellent customer service on the two occasions that I had to claim a refund (once when a restaurant went out of business, once when a cleaning company refused to abide by verbally agreed terms). I just hope this won’t be effected once they are listed on the stock market…

Sue says:
3 June 2011

I’ve used Groupon for 6 months now and have found them to be great.
I always check on the companies offering the deals websites and with similar websites to see if the reductions are genuine and they always have been. We’ve been able to try things we may not have – next week we’re having a Segway trip at Leeds Castle which we wouldn’t have done at full price.
I have a great large canvas print of a photo I took skiing at less than half price and although they sometimes have special offers I haven’t seen such a good one as Groupon.

On one occasion I did not get to use the voucher in time due to unforseen circumstances and they refunded me.

The only not so good experience was at a hairdressers where I was rushed in and out.

Might try some of the other ones now!

N Savory says:
3 June 2011

I wish to unsubscribe from Groupon but I do not see the facility on the website

It’s not obvious, I agree. I believe you have to do it through the links on the emails you receive. Scroll right down to the bottom and you should find it in small writing. Let us know how you get on.

I’ve bought deals from Groupon, Crowdity, Keynoir, kgbdeals and LivingSocial at various times. I’ve generally found them to be a cheap(er) way to treat myself, try something new that I wouldn’t have paid full price for, or great presents. Some deals savings aren’t nearly as good as they’re made out to be but as has been said before, with anything bought on the internet you need to do your research. I’ve had some great meals out, stays away and experiences from them, equally I’ve had one or two where I’ve thought, okay, that wasn’t what I had hoped but at least I only paid a fraction of the normal price. Given the number of deals that I’ve purchased over the last year or so there were bound to be some problems, and I’ve usually resolved these satisfactorily either direct with the group buying site or by getting the group buying site to contact the supplier where my direct approach to the supplier hasn’t worked. I certainly plan to carry on using them in the future!

Laura says:
3 June 2011

N Savory – there should be a link on any of your emails for you to unsubscribe.

Just to pitch in here I’ve also used a lot of the group buying sites, Groupon, Livingsocial, Tiptoken and Crowdity. There seem to be new ones appearing every week or two in London. Agree entirely with Sarah that it’s worth doing a little research before falling for the headline discount rates they boast. I’ve found that they introduce me to new things in London that I wouldn’t otherwise try. My husband and I have had some great meals in new restaurants, tennis lessons and I’ve treated myself to some of the spa offers. I wish Groupon would divide up their subscriber base as I get a lot of emails most of which I’m not interested in at all…


Rick says:
3 June 2011

After using a few of the Groupon offers for restaurants and hotel stays, I get the distinct impression that those less scrupulous managers are using the site to snare unsuspecting customers into less than satisfactory facilities. One or two unexpected gems…but more kitchen nightmares! You really take pot luck.

I agree! I bought a £10 voucher for afternoon tea for two, supposedly worth around £40, my wife and I popped in to book a table. We were told we’d have to ring up! But after a quick look round we decided not to bother.

Geoff - Beverely says:
3 June 2011

I’ve bought several vouchers from Groupon and can only say I’m impressed. Most were simple discounts at local restaurants so it’s quite easy to tell whether they are good value – you get a bill for £40 and they knock £20 off with the Groupon voucher – cost £6. Can’t lose!! It also introduced me to a place about 20 minutes from home that does a SUPERB carvery!

Fred says:
3 June 2011

Groupon totally useless

Fred, I think we might need more to go on that that before we could agree (or disagree) with you.

Hi Fred, it would be great if you could explain why you think this.

Edit: Sarah read my mind.

Ian says:
3 June 2011

My wife and I attended and enjoyed a ‘Symphonic Rock’ concert by the Royal Phil. at the Bridgewater Hall Manchester.

Not only was this my first deal with Groupon, apparently, it was also the first for the venue!

All in all, a very successful evening. I intend to use Groupon again.

Geoff says:
3 June 2011

Groupon provides enough information on it’s offer before you purchase for you to make an informed decision. As with anything it’s a question of being sensible, deciding whether it’s something you really want/need, and then often you can test the discount by looking at the seller’s own website for prices. So far I’ve purchased restaurant meals, a body massage, carpet cleaning, and a photo shoot for the family-the latter two I had actually been recently considering before I found them being offered. A friend whom i introduced (£6 introduction credit) bought several full day attendances at a health club for a fraction of the real cost as she had wnated to start a regular exercise routine, and is now well and truly involved. I admit to having been tempted to buy things i didn’t need, but common sense prevailed!

eshaw says:
3 June 2011

My partner bought a voucher through lastminute.com last December for me for massage for discounted treatments at a Spa in London (not sure if I’m allowed to mention their name on here. Could never get an appointment and was treated very badly by the company. They have now gone bust assuming as their website has disppeared, and they are not answering my letters asking for a refund of the £35. Lastminute refuse to compensate as they say that they act on behalf of these companies. I think something should be done about this, in that they should be held accountable if they recommend dodgy companies, that take your money but don’t produce the goods.

Jenny says:
3 June 2011

eshaw, I agree – I’ve had to return a voucher to 2 different sites, and had very different experiences at them – one after a huge argument gave credit, and the other offered to resolve the problem and give money back if they didn’t (they did)

eshaw, whilst sympathising with your problem, Lastminute.com are not a group buying company (which is the subject of this discussion), they’re an internet travel agency.

Helen says:
4 June 2011

I subscribed to Groupon in relation to one specific deal I found through Google – but when I looked at it more closely it was not as good as it seemed and I didn’t buy. I was then bombarded with emails about offers I had no interest in, until after several weeks I finally managed to unsubscribe. I find it hard to believe that many people would be interested in half the “deals” I was emailed about, and I’m struggling to see how Groupon’s business model came to attract such a high bid from Google.

Monique says:
4 June 2011

My fiancée kindly bought me a deal for O’spa via Groupon, this should have given me access to 3 treatments of my choice. After 6 months of trying to establish contact with this organisation to book my treatments (i’ve tried: telephone, email, website form, in person at spa) and I’ve had no luck. It’s not possible to redeem the voucher in person, an appointments needs to be made by some other medium. They never respond to my emails or web-forms. I think I I have to use the voucher by November, fingers crossed I have some luck over the next few months…

However, I have also purchased a LoveFilm voucher via Groupon as a gift and it has been fantastic, 3 months unlimited access, DVD’s or Blueray, TV access (via a Sony Internet tv) and online access – all for the princely sum of £9. I managed to get a £60 Radley purse (new collection) for £14. I’ve got many bootcamps/dance classes/ pilates classes for next to nothing, so; in spite of the terrible experience with O’Spa I decided to give the group buying phenomena another chance, and it’s worked out brilliantly 🙂

Neill says:
5 June 2011

Used Groupon for the first time recently to purchase a golf package. On the face of it the offer seemed very good value but upon contacting the golf club was disappointed to find the package only included golf on the second much cheaper course. I contacted Groupon Customer Services and whilst they didn’t apologise for the misleading advert/offer they did agree to a full refund.

Max says:
5 June 2011

I have used Groupon only once, but can strongly recommend a “local” London based site called Keynoir. They have been going for quite a while and I have used them a number of times, especially for discounts at Michelin Starred restaurants. They seem to have more interesting offers, where as Groupon seems to be very much geared towards beauty and treatments etc.