Proliferation of coupon sites makes full use of social networking scene
Coupons are suddenly a hip new pursuit.
The sites make full use of e-mail alerts, Facebook, and Twitter to dangle steep savings at local restaurants and businesses in more than 150 cities across the country. The deals target those who like to get out and about. Users typically agree to pay a set amount for a voucher to a business. For example, you might pay half price for a $100 voucher for a new restaurant, $100 for language classes or $60 to see a concert. Users can also earn rewards for rallying friends to sign up or snap up deals.
Before you sign up, here’s how to make the most of the deals.
Study the fine print — Just with like paper coupons, the fine print can sabotage an unseasoned bargain hunter.
For starters, the vouchers often have to be used in a single purchase. So if you score a $100 voucher to a wine shop, be ready to spend that amount in one visit.
With a restaurant voucher, there can be restrictions on using it during busy times such as Sunday brunch. And because they usually can’t be used in combination with other deals, the voucher may not be redeemable for that Valentine’s Day prix fixe dinner or other special offers.
Check the expiration date. Unlike a store gift card, you’ll likely have a limited window to use the coupon — typically between three months and a year.
Resist impulse purchases — The irony of these discount sites? You could end up spending more than normal.
That’s because you’re essentially signing up for constant temptations to spend at restaurants, boutiques, and other businesses just around the corner. And the more frequently you see these offers, the greater the chances are that you’ll reach for your wallet.
To avoid spending more than you intended, set some ground rules before signing up. This can include figuring out a monthly allowance for eating out and other activities. Or use the sites to explore new interests on a budget.
Get friends involved — At Groupon, you get a $10 site credit for referring a friend. But the friend has to sign up within 72 hours after clicking on your referral link. At LivingSocial, if you get three other friends to buy the same deal, your purchase is free. That might be harder than it sounds; you only have about a day to capitalize on the offer.
Understand return policies — Groupon and LivingSocial make a point of emphasizing their generous return policies. Both guarantee refunds if you can’t redeem a voucher through no fault of your own.
You may also be able to get a refund if you’re not happy with the service. These situations are resolved case by case, however, and you may get site credit rather than a refund to your credit card.
Candice Choi is a personal finance writer for the Associated Press.