/ 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 have bought several items on the day,forgot about them and the expiry date for use has come and gone before i have taken up my purchases. cheaper for me not to receive their emails!

Richard Howse says:
6 June 2011

We’ve been using Groupon for 6 months now, and have spent £750 on holidays, hotels, meals, gifts, health and beauty (such as massages and haircuts), with absolutely no sense of being ripped off and while one item was cancelled due to lack of interest, we’ve had no problems… as yet.

It’s been providing quality legitimate deals, and I don’t see that it is anything like the auction sites, whose countdowns dramatically throw users into a muddle and a financial mess. With Groupon, you know that if you miss something, there’s going to be another great deal in the same general area – holiday or treatment – so there’s no need to panic buy.

Judith McLean says:
6 June 2011

I’ve had some good and bad experiences with Groupon. I think the restaurant offers are the best value and offer a good way of trying out new places. The vast majority of restaurants I’ve tried have offered exactly what the voucher says and we’ve had a great meal at a great price. A couple have been less generous with their menus but in the end they lose out as we won’t go back and pay the full price. I’ve had less success with groupons where you buy for example 50 pound worth of credit and you pay 20 pounds. In some cases the offers have been so difficult to use with lots of added conditons that you end up spending just as much as you would have done without the voucher.
I get one e-mail a day from groupon so I wouldn’t say I’m being bombarded by messages. I can see immediately from the subject line if I’m even going to open the e-mail.

Chris says:
6 June 2011

I have used several of these companies and whilst there does tend to be a high amount of cosmetic offers, there have also been some exceptionally good restaurant, event and restaurant offers as well.

I have only had 1 bad experience when the restaurant were limiting the number of voucher bookings per day and I contacted Living Social who made a full and immediate refunmd.

Patricia says:
6 June 2011

I have used Groupon twice now and have been very happy with the product and the service provided by the organisation. The second time involved a refund, which was made promptly and very courteously, so I would recommend them. Needless to say, it is our own responsibility to only buy what we really want and to research it properly. You can opt out of getting their emails if you want, or simply redirect them to your junk mail inbox.

I have a problem with o spa to. I bought a men’s grooming package from the company, managed to book an appointment, but then on a visit to London recently found an o spa under renovation. I was informed that they had gone into administration. No word from group on in response to my queries and no word regarding a refund. Who does my claim lie with, the credit card company or group on?

Hi bigdog65 – if you paid with a credit card then, depending on how much the voucher cost, you could be able to claim back under section 75. If your voucher cost over £100, your credit card company should refund you the money. Here’s some more info on your rights in this situation: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/sale-of-goods/understanding-the-consumer-credit-act/your-rights/

If your voucher cost less than £100, you can find more information on your shopping rights, and how to claim money back, here:

Jenny says:
8 June 2011

Go to Groupon.

They sold you a voucher for something that doesn’t exist, and they have your money! Don’t accept ‘groupon credit’ or anything like that – demand your money back!!

Good luck

James says:
29 June 2011

There are a few good new sites that copy the business model, hopefully one of them will undercut the main ones, not rip businesses off and give consumers better deals!

[Hello James, we have removed the URL as it didn’t work. Thanks.]

I received this offer from Groupon today: Samsung RV510-A0F Laptop With Carry Case Plus 3 Year Warranty & Insurance Package for £359 from The Stone Group (£718 Value) a quick search round various websites suggested a version of this the laptop can be bought from £282.50 so the package to bring the ‘value’ up to £718 must be a good one.

Marc says:
11 July 2011

2 comments. I have ordered the laptop at ‘half-price’ from Groupon. As you say, it can be bought for £300, compared to the £359 I paid, so on first sight not a great deal. £718 is a bit pie-in-the-sky, but they offer 3 year take-away and repair warranty, plus 3 years full insurance including accidental damage, theft etc. Although my home insurance would cover theft, it prob wouldn’t the accidental damage, which is the far likelier occurrence in our house! 3 year warranty is decent peace of mind too, so those 2 together prob worth £100. So I’d say it’s more like a £400 package for £359 – not great, but I wanted a laptop anyway, and I’m informed it’s not a bad one, albeit with an average processor.

Re: their customer service, I went to book at a restaurant on Saturday for my partner’s birthday, and they were fully booked. My voucher was till Tuesday, so I said ok, how about Sunday? She said – fully booked with Groupon customers right up until the deal ends. So I thought – great, I’ve lost £19. I emailed Groupon, expecting to be fobbed off. To my surprise, they emailed back within an hour, agreeing to refund my cash. So I say – fair play to them, refreshing no-quibble service in this day and age.

Marc says:
11 July 2011

…that’s presuming the £19 turns up in my account…

Pauline Khan says:
5 August 2011

I have bought many offers from Groupon, and other sites and have been very pleased. Especially with cut price hair do’s and colouring, also manicures and pedicures. As long as you research the item, and you cannot get it cheaper else where I would go for it. There is always time to check on the internet what these items are going for full price. The full name and address of seller is always on the site. I have had some great purchases some for as much as 60 percent lower than if I went to the shops. Just be savvy. I have also had a refund when I could not use an offer within the 6 months time limit. It was refunded the same day into my account.

Rose says:
18 August 2011

I subscribe to Groupon emails and have bought a couple of deals and referred a friend to another. I disagree with the article that it’s only luxury items. I’ve been on the look-out for a reasonably-priced (but decent) hairdresser near to where I live for a few years now. When I saw a Groupon deal for a much-reduced haircut and condition treatment, I snapped it up. The salon didn’t make the effort they should have done to win me over as a future regular customer – there was no welcome when I walked in and it all seemed a bit like “oh here’s another Groupon person for a cheap haircut” – which was a bit daft as they get very little from each payment to Groupon, I understand, so why do it if they don’t want regular customers. My experience wasn’t good enough for me to use the salon regularly (especially as they’re just another local salon trying to charge close to city centre prices without the staff skills/attitude or high overheads), but at least I didn’t pay full price. I also bought a restaurant deal for a local restaurant, which I must remember to book otherwise I’ll have wasted my money! The deal I referred to a friend was for a nail treatment that she already has and pays more for elsewhere in the same town. There was also a great, fairly last-minute, deal on a day at the local international cricket venue – ticket price about £50 instead of over £100.
I’d agree that you need to check out the deals to make sure you can’t get better/cheaper elsewhere.

Geridine says:
5 September 2011

I would never ever buy anything from Groupon again – I purchased a flower arranging course which turned out to be absolutely terrible. It was said that it was worth £120 and they were selling it for £45.
The course was not worth £20 – was presented by a lady who could not speak good english and the flowers were worth about £3 – I have heard many other reports since when mentioning this to people who also have had bad experiences with Groupon.

David Hoddell says:
23 September 2011

I have, use a number of Groupon Voucher for restaurants had have with one exception found them to be good value, some them exceptional value. Don’t go for Italian restaurants, as they tend to poor value and expensive.

Groupon customer service is appalling!!
I have been trying for 2 1/2 months to get a refund and after numerous emails, lots of phone calls (most of which were not answered),
I was offered a refund in the form of vouchers but refused to accept. I requested cash.
That was weeks ago, and to date I have received neither a refund or reply to my email
I will not deal with this company again.

Veronica says:
23 September 2011

I have used both Groupon and KGB earlier this week.One for a hotel booking and the other for a carvery meal both proved very good value.

Karina says:
25 September 2011

I have been trying ot contact Groupon for 3 weeks now to no avail. All they do is ignore me. I purchased some vouchers and had the most appaling service at a hairdressers. Does anyone know how I can get them to get in touch with me before i contact Trading Standards? Any advice gratefully received.

John Munton says:
27 September 2011

I am bombarded with emails from Groupon every day. Despite unsubscribing they continue to send them. I have tried blocking the sender, but I am told that they disguise the true senders address, so they continue to get through.

Fiss says:
21 January 2012

Yet again Groupon have my money and I have a useless voucher. There was an offer for a 2 night hotel break, only condition was you had to use before 30th April, I decided to book this at 8am, my husband and I both work full time Mon-Fri so my plan was for a Fri/Sat break. By the time I checked that evening, no weekend dates were available, only odd midweek nights. I have emailed Groupon x2 re this and to date no reply. My last mistake with Groupon was I purchased a large bean bag, before purchase I checked re P&P as I live on a Scottish island it can be expensive but it was not too bad. I placed order got my voucher and when I went to use it discovered they wanted £30+ P&P, I decided to cancel and spent nearly a week in email communication, then Groupon said I was outwith the 7 day notice to recieve credit, I emailed them and said I had daily contact with them and unless I received full refund I would contact Which-I got my refund but only in Groupon credit.