Talk to anyone who runs a small business; a cafe, a boutique, a pet groomer’s. Speak with anybody who offers a service; pilates, eye exams, custom framing, teeth whitening, a booze cruise. Gather all of these people in the same place and I promise you one word, and one word alone, will inspire the most exhaustive of collective groans:
I remember when Groupon first started. It was a cute little service that would email you daily deals and if enough people bought them, the deal was on! Yay! You could then take a boot camp class or get a massage or even have a dental exam for a considerable discount. I thought this was pretty cool, especially since I’ve never had dental insurance. What a great idea!
Cut to five years later where Groupon is essentially like the mafia, with its underlings calling around to local shops and making them offers they can’t refuse. Literally. They can’t refuse them, because for many stores, if you’re not dealing with Groupon, you’re not doing business.
The industry I work for, is one in particular, that has been continuously bent over and made Groupon’s personal bitch. Laser hair removal is a service that used to be, and should be, quite expensive. Why? Because the lasers that we use to remove hair run upwards of one hundred thousand dollars and require regular maintenance which can prove quite costly. Yet so many laser centers have issued deals through Groupon that it’s impossible for any others to sell at full price. So now everyone has to offer a deal.
The bigger problem though, is that Groupon doesn’t give a shit about your business. They want to make money (duh) and they want their clients, the consumers, to be happy, so they negotiate the biggest savings possible with the vendors, strongly discourage caps on sales and then take fifty percent, plus credit card fees, from whatever ridiculously reduced rate a company was made to offer their services at. So what business owners are left with is very little money, yet thousands of new customers who all want to be treated like they paid full price.
This is the part that sucks for the employees. Clients rarely take into consideration that the only reason they were able to purchase a laser session for a fraction of what it would normally cost, is because an insane amount of other people bought them too. There is no way customer service isn’t going to suffer. But try telling them that. Clients will complain when they can’t get through on the phone to make an appointment. They will throw fits if they aren’t treated at exactly the time they were confirmed for. If a laser breaks down, which they do quite often because they aren’t equipped to handle the kind of volume beset upon them, clients bug out over being rescheduled. Often, they will ask for more than their coupon includes and on top of that, they rarely tip appropriately (if at all) even when things do go smoothly.
So why do it?
Business owners will take the initial hit in the hopes that customers will stay past the time their vouchers expire and become loyal patrons. However, they rarely do. Groupon shoppers are bargain hunters. As soon as they’ve used up their treatments at one place, they simply move on to another.
But what about the flip side? Doesn’t Groupon make certain things available to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them? Yes. But to be honest even being a Groupon customer kind of sucks. The couple of times I’ve purchased their coupons I was met with muted hostility and frustration from the employees collecting them. Once was at a kickboxing studio. I purchased five sessions for the price of one. The first class was great but afterwards the instructor sat me and my friend down and tried to sell us a package of thirty more, for six hundred dollars. When we weren’t ready to hand over our credit cards, he became irritated with us and declined to even make eye contact when we said goodbye on our way out. I felt so uncomfortable, I never went back for the remaining four classes.
Another time I bought a number of Groupons for a weekend getaway in the woods with a few of my girlfriends. There was a mix-up with our cabin and we had to produce one of the coupons to prove that we all belonged there, even though we had already redeemed them over the phone, six weeks prior. When we couldn’t do it on the spot, they threatened to kick one of us out and put a stranger in. The whole time we were trying to get the issue sorted, the guy working behind the main desk was so overwhelmed with the constant confusion caused by the website that he kept shaking his head and saying “God, I hate Groupon.”
It’s gotten to the point where even walking into a place with a Groupon is awkward for me. I feel like I’m saying to the store owner “Hey, I’ve got this piece of paper here that says I’m going to suck. You think you can you help me out?” Seriously, is anyone is ever really happy to see a Groupon customer?
Yet it seems as though the deal site has become a necessary evil. Businesses have to opt in or risk going under, even if it’s completely lowered the standard of quality and care. In a way, I almost think it can’t last. Prices continue to be slashed at a more and more unsustainable rate, making it close to impossible to keep ahead of demand.
So I guess for the time being, I’ll have to ride out the waves of domineering deal seekers. However, one glimmer of hope remains. Sooner or later, with the competetion killing one another and services tapping out, it seems inevitable that the Groupon bubble will burst.