College Connect: Bargains may really be blunders

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By KATIE BRENNAN

The rise in popularity of online deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Lifebooker has been about as dramatic as the discounts they offer. The discount sites have seen spectacular growth in recent years, aided by the U.S. recession and increased consumer interest in mobile technology.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported Groupon’s stock price was surging on speculation Google may buy the online coupon provider. Google usually shoots down rumors when they have no merit, but both Google and Groupon have yet to comment on the speculation, suggesting it may be worth something.

If Google is looking to acquire Groupon, these online deal sites must be worth using, right?

As a college student, I’m always on the lookout to make the most of my money, and I have done my fair share of saving (or, if I’m honest with myself, spending) on these sites, and in my experience, the discount isn’t worth the headache.

Here’s a couple examples of my experiences.

First, I am in Columbia, Missouri, and am in desperate need of a haircut and color touch up. I won’t be back home to Los Angeles for months, so seeing the ONLY hair stylist I have ever trusted is out of the question.

Lifebooker, a website that offers up to 70 percent off beauty services, posts a deal for a haircut, color and blowout at a salon in New York City for $59. The regular price is $240. That is 75 percent off. And since I’m going to New York City for a conference in two weeks and assuming any stylist in NYC will be better than any in mid-Missouri, I grab it.
BIG mistake.

As soon as the stylist found out I was using a coupon, I became an inconvenience to her rather than a valued customer. When I walked out of the salon, my hair looked worse than when I walked in. The money I saved from buying the deal, plus more, went to fixing the disaster that was my hair.

But did I learn my lesson the first time? Of course not.

The second time around, I bought a $35 Groupon for an eye exam and $245 toward frames and lenses, a total value of $345. That’s 90 percent off!? Quite the deal, I think.

But this experience turns out even worse than my hair disaster. Because so many people bought the Groupon, the doctor’s schedule was filled for weeks.

When my appointment finally arrived, despite the previously agreed upon time of 4:30 p.m., I didn’t see the eye doctor until 5:15. Forgivable, until I see my options for frames.

The Groupon guarantees $245 toward frames and lenses. The cheapest plastic lenses run $90. Want anti-glare glass, instead? You’re looking at $150. So now I’ve got $95 to work with. Problem is, the only non-designer frames this doctor’s office offers are the same low quality plastic ones you would find on a street vendor’s makeshift display… except these don’t go for $7 (or 2 for $10), but $200. Each.

So, in the end, I decided to buy designer frames and spent an additional $230 that I hadn’t planned on spending.  Add in the price of the coupon, and I spent $265 on a new pair of glasses. So much for savings.

In conclusion, both cases overshadow the several positive experiences I’ve had with deal websites. Enough so, that I’m steering clear from them for quite some time. In both instances, the online coupon led to more money spent, hours wasted and an increased desire for something stronger than Excedrin to cure the resulting headache.

The decision is yours, but unless you know and trust the redeeming business, I recommend saving yourself the money, time and pain killers and treating yourself to a swanky salon and Lasik.

Katie Brennan is a senior broadcast major at the University of Missouri.


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