There was a time when “bargain hunting” meant physically beelining to a store’s clearance rack, visiting thrift shops, or spending weekends on the local garage sale circuit. Those days are long gone, and Groupon deserves a disproportionate share of the credit.
Groupon debuted in the late 2000s. Its original iteration was a social coupon clearinghouse that promised to drive new customers to mainly locally owned restaurants and retailers. It appealed to budget-conscious consumers who loved trying new things – if the price was right. Early Groupon users paid upfront for quantity- and time-limited coupons promising discounts of 30%, 50%, or more, then redeemed them with merchants at their convenience during the several weeks the coupons were active.
Today’s Groupon is bigger and better. Local deals remain a core component of the experience. But over the years, Groupon has released many new features that collectively appeal to a broader, more sophisticated audience than Groupon 1.0’s penny-pinching diners and shoppers.
Now, Groupon users can:
- Participate in flash sales that offer amazing value
- Book discounted travel pretty much anywhere in the world
- Purchase heavily discounted retail goods directly
- Score hot tickets to live events, often at discounts to face value
- Find coupon codes for dozens of national and international vendors
- Join a paid membership program with exclusive perks – and, of course, discounts
And that’s just a start.
Groupon doesn’t have a monopoly on digital bargain hunting, of course. Discount travel booking engines are ubiquitous. Scoring retail coupon codes requires nothing more than a simple Google search. And verified ticket resale marketplaces often undercut GrouponLive – the platform’s ticketing feature – on price and availability.
But with no membership required and no financial obligation unless you buy something, Groupon is a low-stakes shopping aid every frugal consumer should keep in reserve.
Groupon has a variety of features and value-added perks.
Before purchasing with Groupon, review each deal type’s refund policy and Groupon’s general customer-satisfaction guarantee. If you’re dissatisfied with your purchase or unable to complete a Groupon-aided transaction, you have recourse in some cases.
Groupon Local Deals are location-based. To see relevant results, set your city or region. Most merchants are independently owned or part of local chains, but you’ll find recognizable regional and national brands too.
Local Deal discounts vary widely, typically ranging from less than 25% to well over 50%. Some are buy-one-get-one-free or buy-one-get-50%-off deals. Others simply discount full price by a set percentage.
Discounts sometimes increase with quantity. A restaurant might offer 30% off dinner for two and 40% off dinner for four, for example. In all cases, Groupon users pay upfront for the voucher and redeem for discounts on qualifying purchases.
Most Local Deal discounts are limited-time offers that disappear from the Groupon website and app when the merchant chooses not to renew. With few exceptions, all expire at a predetermined future date, though Local Deal vouchers always retain their face value. If you buy a $100-off voucher for $50, it’s worth $100 through its expiration date and $50 after that. So if you’re not willing to pay full price for a particular product or experience, be sure to redeem your voucher before it expires. Otherwise, you’ll pay more than you’d like.
Deals of the Day
Groupon Deals of the Day are product- or vendor-specific flash sales that typically last 24 hours or less.
Deals of the Day sometimes overlap with Local Deals; you’ll see many of the same merchants and products in both places. Deals of the Day include other deal types, particularly Groupon Goods (more on them below). Often, the only difference between a Deal of the Day item and the same item available in another section is a temporary one-day discount on top of the discounted price.
Groupon Goods is a digital marketplace for consumer goods, including clothing, electronics, home goods, personal accessories, beauty products, and kids stuff. The layout and user experience bear more than a passing resemblance to eBay, only without the auction option and with fewer product categories.
Groupon Goods are always discounted. But because discounts often apply to vague manufacturer-suggested retail prices most retailers would undercut anyway, figuring out the exact savings on any given item is difficult.
Groupon Goods customers purchase and pay for products on the spot. Shipping options range from one to three days (and sometimes more). Things like product category, weight, and distance impact shipping rates.
Groupon Getaways is Groupon’s travel feature. Although it’s not a full-spectrum travel booking engine or aggregator like Expedia or Priceline, Getaways has an impressive selection of lodging, car, and air-inclusive travel package deals.
Getaways discounts regularly exceed 30% of the advertised price or rate – often significantly for low-travel season. Search by destination (general region or specific “top destinations”) or interest (“last minute,” “under $99,” “family fun,” “international”), or browse headline deals in your home region.
Airfare is a glaring Getaways omission. Getaways doesn’t offer any airfare deals outside its air-inclusive travel packages and tours.
GrouponLive is Groupon’s live events ticketing feature. Don’t mistake it for a full-spectrum ticket resale marketplace like StubHub. Local events are GrouponLive’s bread and butter, and it doesn’t feature every big-ticket event happening in every city.
That said, it’s a fine place to find tickets for major sporting events at or below retail value. If you’re a professional sports fan without season tickets, GrouponLive is worth checking before you buy directly from the team.
Groupon Coupons is a vast database of brand- and retailer-specific digital coupons and coupon codes offered at no out-of-pocket cost to the user. Virtually all are valid for online purchases with sponsor brands and retailers – no need to print a physical coupon or download an e-voucher. Some coupons and coupon codes are exclusive to Groupon, but many are available elsewhere.
Groupon’s Coupons feature offers a partial workaround for Groupon Getaways’ lack of airfare-only deals. Groupon regularly promotes coupons and coupon codes from third-party travel booking platforms, like CheapOair.
Groupon Movies, also advertised as Groupon Cinema, isn’t an independent Groupon feature. It’s formally an extension of Local Deals and has comparable discounts. The best deals usually involve multi-ticket packages, sometimes in odd lots; three- and five-ticket packages are common. Still, there are worse cheap date ideas.
Groupon Select is a paid membership program that promises deeper, member-exclusive savings on publicly available deals and free shipping on Groupon Goods purchases, among other incentives – all for a monthly fee roughly equivalent to the cost of a large latte. Subject to change, highlights include:
- 25% off Local Deals vouchers
- 15% off most Groupon Goods purchases
- Free shipping on most Groupon Goods purchases
- 25% off AMC movie theater tickets (subject to annual limits)
- 10% off Groupon Getaways purchases
- 10% off GrouponLive purchases
- Access to member-exclusive deals not visible to the general public
New members must commit to six consecutive months of Groupon Select membership. After the introductory period, membership automatically renews on a month-to-month basis until you cancel.
Groupon’s Android and iPhone mobile apps give you access to all the Groupon features you see online in a small-screen-friendly package. Use it to redeem Local Deals vouchers digitally with real-world merchants without having to keep track of a bunch of paper vouchers.
Groupon sells gift cards redeemable for purchases on the Groupon website and app. Unless otherwise noted, you can use gift card balances to fund any item available for sale on Groupon.
Groupon’s Gift Shop lets users select Groupon Goods items and other products as gifts for designated recipients. Click the “Gift Shop” tab to see gift-eligible merchandise and deals in your area, then click “Give as a Gift” in the listing when you’re ready to buy.
There are many reasons Groupon is worth your time.
- Vast Array of Discounts and Deals. As a whole, Groupon is rife with opportunities to pay less than full price on everyday and not-so-everyday products, services, and experiences. No matter where you live, Groupon puts thousands of deals at your fingertips, many of which don’t require in-person redemption. The platform has come a long way from the days of hit-or-miss restaurant and retail couponing.
- Groupon Select Offers Good Value for Regular Users. Groupon Select’s monthly membership fee is a good investment for users who can swing at least one significant Groupon purchase per month. Groupon Goods buyers make out particularly well if they’re Groupon Select members thanks to its generous free shipping allowance.
- Lots of Convenient Coupon Codes. Once upon a time, Groupon revolved around coupons you had to redeem in person. With Groupon Coupons, you get the same great savings on online purchases.
- Tons of Direct Buying Opportunities Through Groupon Goods. Groupon Goods can’t match e-commerce behemoths like Amazon or eBay on quantity and variety. But don’t sell it short. You can find a lot of cool stuff there, often at steep discounts to pricing at vendor websites and brick-and-mortar stores.
- Rare Travel Deals for Those With Flexible Schedules. Groupon Getaways is an excellent resource for travelers who aren’t brand-loyal and don’t mind tailoring their travel windows to the best available deals. With lots of independently owned hotels and resorts in its portfolio, Getaways is also great for users looking to get off the beaten path and discover places they might miss by relying exclusively on a co-branded hotel rewards credit card.
- Expired Vouchers Are Still Worth Face Value. You can always redeem expired Local Deals vouchers for face value. In other words, you’ll never lose money on a Local Deal, even when you wait too long to redeem.
Mind these Groupon downsides.
- Groupon Getaways Isn’t a Proper Travel Booking Engine. Don’t confuse Groupon Getaways with a travel booking engine like Expedia. It’s not the same. Most importantly, you can’t book airfare-only reservations through Groupon Getaways, only air-inclusive travel packages that may also include lodging, tours, and meals. Moreover, there’s a limited selection. Compare Groupon Getaways listings with Hotels.com listings in the same area, and you’ll immediately see the difference.
- Groupon Select Isn’t Worthwhile for Occasional Users. It doesn’t take a whole lot to justify Groupon Select’s monthly fee. Nevertheless, membership isn’t right for infrequent Groupon users. Groupon Select’s multimonth commitment is problematic for those who won’t make at least one purchase per month. Though more expensive, Amazon Prime is a more versatile paid retail membership thanks to value-adds like Amazon Prime Pantry.
- GrouponLive Sales Are Usually Final. GrouponLive has an all-sales-are-final policy they’ll only bend with considerable effort on your part. If you’re not positive you can make a date, buy tickets through platforms with more robust resale components, such as StubHub.
- Selection Is Highly Variable and Subject to Change. Groupon’s selection changes frequently. Specific deals come and go by the hour, and there’s no guarantee any particular deal will reappear once it’s gone. If you’re not ready to make a Groupon purchase immediately, be prepared to have to buy from another vendor when the time finally comes.
- Groupon Goods May Have Hefty Shipping Charges. Groupon Goods shipping charges vary widely based on factors like ship time and item category. Broadly speaking, though, they’re steep, especially for consumers who don’t make lots of online purchases or typically take advantage of free shipping through memberships like Amazon Prime. If you plan to make multiple Groupon Goods purchases each month, consider a Groupon Select membership.
- Groupon Doesn’t Guarantee a Good Experience. Groupon can’t control what happens after users buy products, services, experiences, or vouchers through their site. The expansive Groupon Promise – a satisfaction guarantee for Groupon buyers – provides redress for most disputes. But it can’t prevent bad experiences from happening in the first place.
- Groupon Is Designed to Tempt Users. Groupon’s business model depends on discretionary purchases. Not surprisingly, its interface is designed to encourage impulse buys. Avoiding Groupon altogether is overkill. But it’s a good idea to set spending limits and guidelines before opening your wallet here.
Groupon is a free website and app that delivers thousands of different discounts and deals every month. Unless you prefer to pay full price for goods, services, and experiences, Groupon is worth bookmarking, downloading, and checking regularly.
Whether Groupon Select is worth the cost of membership is a separate question. I don’t use Groupon enough to pay a recurring monthly fee, but your calculus may be different. Groupon Select doesn’t cost a fortune, and though new members must lock in for a multimonth period, one Groupon Select deal per month is usually enough to offset the membership fee.
Even if you don’t see the value in Groupon Select, you can’t go wrong adding Groupon to your roster of couponing resources. It’s sure to make your life a little richer and your wallet a little fatter.
Do you use Groupon to find deals in your city? What’s the best deal you’ve purchased on Groupon?