Community Coupons: Deal or No Deal?

By Julie Ann
Have you heard of community coupon Web sites? The two main national community coupons sites are Groupon and Living Social. I decided to try out these sites and their Portland, Oregon, offers to see if I could grab some savings. I’m unemployed at the moment so I’m pinching pennies at every corner and figure just about any cost saving idea is worth trying.
How it works: Local businesses (typically in medium to large cities) such as restaurants, spas and entertainment centers, contract to offer deep discounts on these sites. As part of the deal a certain number of people must sign up to take advantage of the deal. If the minimum number is not reached, then the offer is withdrawn. The idea is that you will share the deals that matter to you with friends via e-mail or social networking so that the minimum number is met, and you get to take advantage of the deal. If you’ve spent much time on Facebook you may have seen some friends share a link for a daily deal.
The Experiment: On my first day on Groupon, the featured offer was for a wine tasting. Since I don’t drink wine, this was worthless for me. I checked out the other daily deals. There were two home care deals which didn’t apply to me because I rent. There was a deal for tanning but I don’t advise anyone to spend money on something that may give you cancer. Finally, there was a deal on a yoga hike, which had very little appeal to me as well.
With my lack of success on Groupon for the day I pointed my browser to Living Social. The deal of the day was for laser hair removal. It did seem like a fairly good deal if you were desperate for hair removal; ($150 for what was supposedly a $750 dollar set of treatments) but I could live without it.
There’s always tomorrow, right?
When I checked my e-mail on community couponing day two, I was met with an offer for reduced admission to the Rose Festival Portland City Fair. It was probably a good deal to take advantage of for those planning to attend anyway, but not for me since I wasn’t planning on going. The other daily deals included hair extensions, fitness classes, another laser hair removal offer, bowling and a bubbling fountain landscape install. Nothing I couldn’t live without.
Over at Living Social, I was offered a two-year subscription to an Oregon magazine, and discounts at a clothing store (in a town a few hours away), dance classes, yoga classes and ten skating rink admission tickets with skate rental.
Over the next few days I faithfully checked the daily deals. I saw offers for more bubbling garden fountains installations, discounts on jet skiing, kayaking, men’s suits, vehicle detailing, more wine tasting, fitness boot camp (do I look crazy?), dental whitening, piano lessons and art supplies. And I am quite certain that there is a laser hair removal offer for just about every day of the week. (I don’t know if this is an issue everywhere or perhaps we Portlanders are especially fuzzy from all the rain.)
Since I wasn’t having much luck joining in on coupons that were practical, I decided to ask my Facebook friends about their experiences with community coupons.
My friend Michelle in Fresno reported that she recently got a real good deal for an Indian food restaurant that she used when a friend came into town. She said that the food was good and the price was even better!
Erica, from Missouri, managed to catch an awesome deal and receive a $20 gift certificate for Amazon for only $10. She says that she tracks deals from both Groupon and Living Social on phone apps.
Even after my friends’ success, I was still a little skeptical. Finally about a week after I started my experiment I received an e-mail from Groupon with a $10 promo offer to apply to any deal I took advantage of since I was new to the site. If I could find a ten dollar deal I could get something for free. That price definitely sounded good to me! About two days later an offer came in for a $20 Old Navy certificate available for only $10. This seemed like a very practical deal to take advantage of as I already shop at Old Navy because of their reasonable clothing prices. I accepted the offer and applied my discount. I was now the proud owner of a $20 Old Navy gift certificate that didn’t cost me a single penny. Score! (I would have jumped on board with this deal even if I had to pay the $10 since it was something I can always use.)
The Verdict: In general the offers on these sites tend to be frivolous things that you can definitely live without, and probably should live without. But occasionally you might find a great coupon to sign up for and save a few bucks.
Watching these sites doesn’t seem to take up too much time or effort, so you don’t really have anything to lose by keeping an eye on things or opening up the daily e-mail they send.
And if you are afraid that your location isn’t large enough for deals, sign up for a nearby city or a place you plan to vacation. After all, an Amazon or Old Navy discount certificate will work anywhere if you are able to catch a deal from one of these national chains.
In sum, unless you are as hairy as Bigfoot or want to create a bubbling outdoor fountain wonderland, you can expect to find really useful and good deals only occasionally.

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