What’s the deal?
In this edition of our monthly Gadget column, we examine online bargain websites.
While not the first website to offer rotating daily deals for restaurants, hotels, outdoor activities, and health and wellness fun, Groupon remains the most prominent. Covering the world from Utah to the United Arab Emirates, Groupon promises up to 90 percent off but, in reality, it’s usually closer to 50 percent off. When you purchase a deal, as with most deal sites, you pay up front and receive a voucher to use within a set number of months. Many businesses count on the fact that people will buy on impulse and forget to use the voucher, so keep your deals organized. There are plenty of local deals, but it’s also worth keeping an eye on other cities when planning a vacation. The user interface on the site seems slightly counter-intuitive, but the iPhone and Android apps are clean and easy to navigate. Recently, to try to distinguish themselves from the growing number of competitors, the site introduced Groupon Now. This service offers deals that must be used in the next 24 hours. The number of deals spread out over the world makes this the perfect go-to site to check out savings.
Living Social attempts to carve a niche in the online deals market with more big-name offers. Instead of the mom-and-pop bookstores and community yoga clubs that Groupon often features, Living Social tries to focus on brands such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They still hit the local hot spots, but because they don’t flood each day with deals, this seems a much more selective service. The iPhone app separates the offers into Daily Deals and Escapes, an arguably unnecessary distinction, but it’s nice, when you’re looking for a restaurant, to pop into Daily Deals and not worry about the $400 bed and breakfast weekends offered in Escapes. One advantage of Living Social is if you refer three friends to a deal, you receive it free, so there’s an incentive to spread the word. Living Social’s website is more atrocious than Groupon’s. It takes multiple clicks just to switch cities. Can you survive on Groupon without Living Social? Yes. Can the same thing be said for existing solely on Living Social? No. It’s a great service that puts together some nice packages, but it’s a specialty grocer next to Groupon’s supermarket.
Whenever the massive social network does something, people take notice. So, last November when Facebook announced they would be getting into the online deals market, people paid attention. Unfortunately, they’ve yet to see anything very impressive. The deals are only available in five cities, the closest to Reno being San Francisco, and they’re easy to forget because Facebook has them hidden on the home page. You can’t even access them through the iPhone app. If you do stumble upon the deals and happen to be in one of the five cities, the deals are just as good as Groupon’s offerings. However, the frequency at which they change seems to be considerably less. If Facebook ever manages to expand their deals to as many cities as Groupon, you can imagine that they’d be a powerful force to reckon with. Unlike any other startup bargain website, Facebook already has the attention of 600 million people.