Let's dish daily deal sites

Tamar Satov learns whether Groupon and other deal sites are really a bargain

Illustration Credit: Gemma Correll

It was a perfect day of skiing, with no lineups at the lift. But what made it even better for Gabriel Shaffer, a father of two from Thornhill, Ont., was the $100 he saved on ski passes. It was just one of the deals he’s scored through websites like Groupon, Dealfind, WagJag and TeamBuy, which send daily email offers on everything from food to facials to family activities. You sign up for a voucher; if a specified number of people also sign up, you pay for it up front and redeem it later.

It’s a simple idea, but it has some potential pitfalls. We asked parents who use the sites to share their best tips:

Stick to stuff you’d buy anyway. For Shaffer, this includes ski passes, running gear and restaurant meals. He doesn’t pick up a deal every day. “I get all these emails, and there’s a ton of stuff that doesn’t appeal to me.” His advice: Don’t hesitate to hit Delete.

Make sure it’s really a deal. When Shaffer spied a TeamBuy offer for a $59 March break sports camp, he not only compared it to the retail value of $149, but also to the $125 he was planning to spend on a different camp for his eight-year-old son, Corey. Either way, it was a great deal. So he emailed the offer to friends, including Jason Praw, who decided to send his sons, ages six and nine, to the same camp.
Know who you’re buying from. If the vendor isn’t one you already trust, do a quick online search to find out how long the company has been in business. Even new locations of long-standing establishments can be risky, as Shaffer discovered. When a favourite Toronto eatery opened a second restaurant in his neighbourhood, he snapped up three $60 vouchers for $30 each. Unfortunately, he used only two before the new location closed.

If you buy it, use it. This sounds like a no-brainer, but vouchers, just like gift cards, often go unredeemed. “It’s not savings if you aren’t going to use it, so don’t be lured in by the 75 percent off,” says Praw, who subscribes to a dozen daily deal sites and has saved on mini-golf, yoga classes for his wife and frozen yogurt. “You’re committing dollars immediately and then you’re on the clock.” Some coupons have restrictions on when and how they can be used, and most have an expiry date. Set a reminder on your calendar, and be aware that there could be a run on the product or service in the week or two before the expiry.

Be efficient. If sorting through a dozen or more emails a day is too onerous, consider using an aggregator site such as Group Buy United or OneSpout, says Praw. These will search for all the daily deals in your region, and you can filter the offerings so you’re alerted only about categories that interest you.

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