Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Joy of Groupon and the Coupon Wild West

I'm not a big user of coupons, online or cut out of the newspaper or magazines. I tend to wait for the big sales, and then if the coupon says 20% off, or a couple of dollars back, I take the trouble to cut out the coupon, download it and print it, and make sure I tote it to my local store.  I'm sure many of you Boomers out there save hundreds of dollars with great couponing techniques, but this isn't what this column is about. I want to tell you about some big savings I've found online and used to my advantage.

Many people who go online have seen ads for something called Groupon. This is a site that sends out localized offers for big savings at businesses in the viewer's town, nearby or online. One day you might find a Groupon for spa services and the next day a discount to create a photobook, or a great deal on a restaurant. The key to Groupons is that they require a massive number of people to sign up for the deal for "the deal to be on."

Here's how it works.  You go onto the Groupon site and register. You do have to give them your credit card information, but nothing is charged until you accept a deal. Then the emails start.  The other day I received a "Groupon" offer in my email to create a $30 photo book for $10. My husband's aunt had just had a 90th birthday party and my husband had taken some pictures there. I thought it would be fun to put those pictures in a photobook, but frankly, I didn't want to spend $30. This offer was just what I needed. I signed up, and received a notice that enough people had signed up for "the deal to be on." Groupon charged me $10, and later sent me a link to the photo website and a coupon code to use when I was checking out, so I would get the deal.

I won't name the photo website I went to, but the photo book wasn't particularly easy to put together. The directions were a bit hard to follow, but I finally got it done, and sent it off to my husband's aunt, who was thrilled with the results. I had to pay some additional taxes and shipping and handling, but I did get a real bargain on this photo book, and I tried out the photo website. Unfortunately for this vendor, the website is a bit too hard to use, and I probably won't be coming back unless they make some improvements. However, the Groupon deal was a really good one.

One drawback to Groupon deals is that they almost always have a time deadline. Right now I am sitting on a coupon ($20 for $40 worth of food) to one of my favorite local restaurants that almost never offers discounts, but the coupon is only good for another two weeks. If I want to get my money's worth, I have to make sure I use this Groupon soon!

The Coupon Wild West

While Groupon is a great legitimate site, let's face it, Boomers, many of you may be wary of using web coupons. It's like the wild west out there, with fake coupons and bad checkout codes proliferating. Back in June some Internet scammers circulated an email coupon for a free bag of Doritos, costing Frito Lay a lot of money. You can read about it here.  This is just one of the scams that spread "virally" on the web so its no wonder that some of your local grocery stores refuse to accept Internet coupons as a matter of policy. This happened to me when  my local supermarket decided to stop accepting Internet coupons for a very long time. Believe me, this decision created some problems with some of its customers. 

On her website, celebrity coupon mom Stephanie Nelson features a list of legitimate, authenticated sites you can use to print out grocery coupons. You can find the list  here. These include SmartSource and RedPlum

Some of these sites ask you to download their software before you can print out the coupons. That's one way to keep the coupons legit, but I understand that there are many Boomers out there who don't want to have to put one more program on their computers!

Several sources offer advice for people who want to save money and make sure their coupons are accepted at the store. The first and foremost hint is to bring the whole page with you.  If you bring the whole page with you, the address of the website will be printed on the paper, so your store can see it is a coupon from a legitimate site. Also make sure the bar code, expiration dates and all fine print are readable. If they are not, grocery store clerks are probably not going to take the coupon. More hints are available here, in an article.

Many of us also want to take advantage of websites that collect lists of coupons available online and usable at online merchants, but these too are fraught with problems. There are just too many sites out there that purport to provide coupon codes you can use in online checkouts, but when you try to use them,  the codes don't work or they've expired. In the past, trying to be a savvy shopper, I did try using some of the codes on coupon sites. I was almost never successful, and it was a frustrating process.

Recently I heard of a website that is trying to combat that problem. It's called Don't think I'm endorsing it, because I'm not since I haven't really tried it out myself.  The site seems to be on the right track, though, and appears to have.some backing from the Better Business Bureau. says it verifies and updates coupons on a consistent basis using a quality assurance team.  There may be other sites that do this, but I haven't heard of them. Anyway, that's what is needed, if the world of online couponing is to become less like the Wild West.


Greg Katz said...

Groupon is very popular in the DC area. I know some people that use it.

Online Coupons said...

Many internet retailers offer a variety of online coupons and codes. But only a few had real deals, so we better pick those retailers who are trusted over years.