Groupon
Picture: AngelaC

By Ryan Hook

Everybody loves discounts, none more so than those students recovering from the financial pressures of Freshers’ Week, with its overpriced drinks and nightly visits to, well, nightclubs. The cash from student loans, which originally seemed bottomless, has soon dwindled down to mere pennies, and the need to save money gradually over-takes the need for nights out.

Enter Groupon, literally a merger of the words ‘group’ and ‘coupon’, a company that offers discounts on everything from cupcakes to flights to see the Northern Lights. And they’re never small reductions either – 50% off on Groupon is pretty much considered the base rate of discount, and it’s not unusual to see a product or service worth £80 on sale for just a third of its original value.

So far so good. But (and there was obviously going to be a but) complaints against the company have risen dramatically in the past year and continue to do so.

One of the most prolific lines of complaint is that the product isn’t as advertised, be it due to lower quality or simply a different service given to the one expected. A high profile example of this was the catastrophe that resulted from Rachel Brown’s deal with Groupon last year.

Mrs Brown runs the Need a Cake bakery which bakes cupcakes and sends them to customers. The usual price for 12 cupcakes was a pretty extortionate £26 – over £2 per cupcake (definitely not a popular student choice)! However, through Groupon she reduced this to £6.50 per batch and was soon inundated with orders. A bakery that usually found itself baking a few hundred cupcakes per month was soon forced to produce over 100,000. Quite the rise in popularity.

Of course, Mrs Brown and her team couldn’t handle the boom in orders and she ended up employing agency workers to help her, who weren’t trained to her exacting standards, and this inevitably resulted in a drop in quality. Not to mention the drop in customer service standards brought on by staying up baking every night of the month. The story doesn’t even have a happy ending – Mrs Brown lost thousands of pounds overall from underselling and unsurprisingly called the deal “Without doubt, the worst ever business decision I have made.”

This highlights one of the major flaws in Groupon’s business strategy: at the end of the day, it’s the supplier, and not Groupon itself, which supplies the finished product and inevitably not every supplier will live up to Groupon’s expectations.

Lauren Blackwell, a third year UWE student, is one of Groupon’s less satisfied customers, having bought coupons for a Reading restaurant which failed to accept said coupons. She was soon on the telephone to Groupon and stated “Although the entire incident was annoying, they were efficient in returning my money”.

Two other UWE students to use Groupon are Rob Smith and Gabby Lacono, who purchased a weekend break from the website and saved over 50% off the original price. They claim the company was “Efficient and quick in handling our order”, although added “But as students we probably won’t use Groupon again as most of the deals are for expensive commodities, not something students can afford most of the time.”

Groupon is definitely a site to be used sparingly, as it’s easy to be dragged in by appealing offers that are beyond a student’s financial reach. Indeed, while researching this article I came across an offer for a remote control helicopter that boasted 58% off its price, as well as the ability to be controlled by an iPhone! Nice try, Groupon. Nice try.