Like most other people who I know, I latched on to the group coupon craze last year, buying coupons for things that I probably didn’t need at prices that seemed to be a good deal. I’ve slowed down considerably from my initial rush, although I still have a few coupons to use up from those heady days, and I’ve learned a huge lesson: some online group coupon sites are reputable, while others are not. One enormous issue is that the sketchier sites don’t check out their vendors very well, with the result that you might end up buying a coupon that the vendor makes it nearly impossible for you to reimburse, or tries to switch the product that you thought you bought for something else. When you have to deal with those sketchy sites’ customer service, they do everything possible to refuse the refund to which you are entitled, and sometimes are downright rude about it.
I’ve had some great experiences, where I’ve bought quality goods or services, and continue to be a customer of a business that I might never have tried otherwise. A great example of this is WineOnline.ca, who offered discounts through TeamBuy and DealFind; I used all of my coupons, and I’m now a regular customer for ordering wine by the case, delivered directly to my home by their always-friendly team. I’ve purchased other coupons through TeamBuy, too: Toronto Airport Express (which I still use occasionally), the One of a Kind show, Mankind Grooming Studio (great gift for a friend), Booster Juice (too sweet for me, but good to try it out), Smoke’s Poutinerie (yum!), Best Limousine (not as convenient as my current airport limo service) and Rock Candy Life (nice shower curtain). The only problem that I had was a failed delivery from Rock Candy Life that appears to have been a pure shipping error, and was corrected immediately with a new shipment. In other words, TeamBuy definitely falls into my “reputable” classification, since they appear to be offering goods or services from companies that are in turn reputable, hence provide an overall good experience both for buying and using coupons.
Groupon has also worked well for me, including their instant coupons via the iPhone app. I discovered a new tea shop in my neighbourhood, Herbal Infusions (great selection and nice staff), went on a ride with Toronto Helicopter Tours (highly recommended), and tried out Front Door Organics’ home delivery (didn’t work for me because of their delivery schedules, although the food was great). I also bought a Bixi membership that I plan to kick off in the spring, and will likely continue with after the first year if I’m using it enough to justify. I also have a couple of coupons to use for restaurants that I’m eager to try out.
I’ve had mixed results with Living Social: I bought a mani/pedi at Soho Spa, booked the appointment for the day before I was leaving for a Florida vacation, then had the spa call to cancel that morning – after they had marked the coupon as used. I had to contact Living Social to have the coupon reinstated, which they did immediately, so they get points for customer service but could provide better instructions to their vendors about marking coupons before they are actually used. On most sites, the customer marks the coupons as used on the site merely as a convenience, and the vendor doesn’t have the opportunity to mark them used; there’s significant room for abuse here if you don’t track your own coupons but rely on the Living Social site to do it for you. TeamSave, similarly, has “disappeared” vouchers from my account; if I hadn’t been tracking them myself, I would have lost coupons that I had already paid for. DealFind, although I had luck with them on the WineOnline and other vouchers, recently sold one for a 32GB SD card from a vendor that appears unable to process an order, and I’m having trouble even contacting the vendor to find out what it happening. I think that DealFind, like a few other deal sites, have lowered their standards considerably in the vendors that they promote, and they’re likely to see a big backlash from that.
In the “not so good” category, we have DealTicker. I’ve only bought one thing from them, and it’s been a massive fail both from a vendor product standpoint and customer service. In mid-November, I bought a coupon for touchscreen gloves – the vendor site showed some brightly-coloured striped gloves that I really liked. The coupon was not valid until November 30th; the day before, I checked the vendor website and the striped gloves were still there, but after the 30th, when I went in to place my order, they had removed all the striped ones and only have plain grey gloves left. I contacted the vendor; they replied:
A variety of colours were available, however, as an online retailer, we experience a high volume of sales (outside of group-buy deals) especially for this popular seasonal item. Our suppliers no longer carry the colours previously advertised on our site. Therefore we are not able to stock the same colours.
A pure bait-and-switch scam: sell the customer one thing, then attempt to substitute something else. I contacted DealTicker, who gave me a completely different response:
We have investigated your complaint, and have been assured that Lifestyl.info will restock any items currently sold out. As they received a great deal of response to this deal, some models inevitably ran out. As your voucher is valid for one year, there is plenty of time to allow them to restock any item that is currently sold out.
Obviously, no real communication going on between DealTicker and the vendor, in spite of what DealTicker claimed. I requested a refund; DealTicker responded that it would be processed by December 29th, almost a month later. Unhappy with this, I tweeted that DealTicker should be ashamed to sell a bogus coupon, then take almost a month to refund me for it. The following Twitter conversation, in which they stated that their really horrible customer service is “awesome” and I am “miserable”, ensued (read from the bottom up):
At the very least, whoever posts to their Twitter account should be moved to a position where they don’t interact with customers.
Also in the truly horrible category is WebPiggy, which took part in The Butchers scam. I bought two different deals from them – an airport limo company that wouldn’t even return my calls, and the Butchers – and had to have both of them refunded since I couldn’t get what I paid for. The airport limo refund came right away, along with a code for an additional discount on my next WebPiggy order, but I had to send several emails and make phone calls to the customer services director with accusations of fraud before he made the larger refund for the Butchers.
The upshot of all this is that I’m more careful about the sites that I will even consider purchasing from, and the specific deals that I will purchase. TeamBuy, Groupon and a few others are definitely on my list, while DealTicker and WebPiggy emails go straight to my spam folder. I also avoid deals from websites that appear to be pushing junky products purely through internet sales, like Lifestyl.info and xsv360.com deals that have proved quite unsatisfactory, and where the same goods can be found at a similar regular price at more reputable online retailers such as TigerDirect and Canada Computers. Instead, I now focus on deals for local businesses that I just need a bit of an excuse to try out, and of which I will potentially become a regular customer.
In my business, if I sold a service then tried to bait and switch to something else that wasn’t what the customer wanted, or was deficient/rude in my customer service, I’d be out of business. By that measure, some of the online coupon sites should definitely not be in business, and won’t be getting any of mine in the future.