Groupon Challenges For Vendors As Seen By A Customer

Last night I attended the Vancouver Giants hockey game having purchased the 2 for 1 Groupon that was offered in late November. I’m also going to the game on Thursday with the Groupon offer. However, not all is bright and cherry for this promotion. With all good things, there are limitations. But when those limitations become major inconveniences, disaster can strike. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Giants and will always go to my usual two or three games a year, but Groupon & Vancouver Giants provided a very poor brand experience last night.

The Groupon offer:

$24 – 2 Red Zone Tickets & $10 Gift Card


  • Tickets only available for Red Zone (not the best seats in the Coliseum)
  • Groupon’s can only be redeemed to games in the month of December. (Limited games available)

So I knew all this ahead of time.

My total savings was approx. $12/ per ticket + $5 per person on a gift card.

What I did not know prior to purchase:

  • Tickets can’t be redeemed via Ticketmaster.
  • Tickets can only be redeemed at the Pacific Coliseum Box Office.
  • The Box Office is only open on game days. (Open times: Weekends – Noon & Weekdays – 3pm)
  • The Box Office has 10 windows and only 1 window is dedicated for redeeming Groupons. (Yes, it moved quickly considering how long the line was)

Personally, I found the number of limitations provided a very poor experience in trying to attend a Vancouver Giants game. Normally, I simply log on to Ticketmaster and purchase tickets to the game without worrying when I am able to purchase them. Typically, you can redeem gift cards or other promotional codes on Ticketmaster as well. So I was quite disappointed to learn that my Groupon code would not be eligible to be redeemed on Ticketmaster.

Not only would I have to redeem the Groupon on the game day, but also my friends and I ended up standing in a long lineup for 20mins in the pouring rain redeeming the Groupon’s at the Box Office managed by Ticketmaster employees. For a savings of $17/ per person, I found the Groupon redemption method a major headache and inconvenience. If I weren’t a passionate fan, then I would not be returning.

Having said all this, if you’re coming from a fair distance away such as Abbotsford/ Chilliwack, Vancouver Island, or elsewhere, then the inconvenience for the process of redeeming the Groupon may be worth it for you. But for your everyday fan that lives in the lower mainland, I found this offer to not be worth the value gained or inconveniences experienced.

Tip to any business: If Groupon is providing any customer redemption limiations to your business that could provide a negative experience, then don’t do accept. Providing a discounted deal for a bad experience will only hurt your brand and sales in the long run.

Here are some other major risks that Groupon presented to businesses as described:

  • Discount-focused CRM is not ideal for most local businesses. While consumers might prefer a relationship channel solely focused on deals, local businesses probably do not. Non-deal CRM platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter provide broader context for: branding, engagement, introduction of new products, customer service. Many local businesses might utilize deals to get new customers through the door, but it’s unclear their next step is to encourage them to drive them to their Groupon page.
  • Groupon’s success here may work against itself. Should Groupon users start following their favorite businesses, a friction will emerge where users expect to be alerted of offers from their merchants, but merchants would want to surface its deepest discounts to everyone but their current customers.

Funny, I was recently blind-sided by some similar Groupon unexpected redemption problems. I purchased the $100 credit at Larry’s Sports that was offered a few weeks ago, and redeemed it on my iPhone. Despite Groupon’s assurances that I could present it on my mobile device, when I got to the store the owner expressed a little surprise that I hadn’t printed it out, and then said I had to email it him so he could print it off. After taking a screen shot and emailing it to him, I had to wait for him to serve other customers, then walk back to his office to get the coupon. All told, it probably added (a very boring) 10 minutes to my shopping experience. It wasn’t as frustrating as your experience by the sounds of things, but it was enough to make me question the disconnect between Groupon and the retailer.

A friend and I were actually talking the other day about Groupon and Larry’s, about how the partnership never really seemed like a good fit. Larry’s is well known for offering discounts to their customers – it’s not uncommon for a shopper to be given 10-15% off the sticker price as a matter of course. When it happens, the shopper feels like they got a really good experience, and that Larry’s really cared about their business; Larry’s felt like your buddy, who was going the extra mile for you.

But with the Groupon, the customer doesn’t feel special, they feel instead like bargain hunters who would switch retailers in a heartbeat if a different Groupon was offered. It took something that felt given, and turned into something that felt entitled. From a customer experience standpoint, the former is a much better feeling.

Yes, it does seem that as fast as Groupon has arrived, it could be gone just as fast if it continues to erode the value of a brand or brand experience. You are most certainly right that customers don’t feel that special anymore when it comes to receiving kind retailer gestures. Groupon is starting to turn customers, even myself, into price sensitive shoppers that expect to find bargains.

I have another experience that happened today with Groupon to share as well. I went to Steven Nash Fitness World & Sports Clubs today to redeem my Groupon purchased in October. However, little did I realize that Fitness Worlds were just an umbrella of the Steve Nash Fitness Clubs. Unfortunately I didn’t do my homework on this deal and read the fine print as closely as I needed to. The Groupon did state that the deal only works at Steve Nash Fitness Worlds at the specific listed locations.

A read flag would have risen if I had seen this. I purchased the Groupon thinking that it could be used at any Steve Nash Fitness Worlds & Sports Club location. I thought they were all the same. Fortunately, I ran into the Sales Manager at the Sports Club and I got a tour of the facilities where I then decided to sign up for a membership.

The Sales Manager was the one to inform me of the limitations I did not read on the Groupon. Instead of denying my use of the Groupon, he turned my immediate negative experience into a positive one with friendly customer service and appreciation of my current situation. He then allowed me to use my Groupon and went further yet to accomodate my needs with other offers included in my membership.

I definitely think you’re right that Groupon can and is likely to produce a very negative brand experience for someone because of it’s stipulations and control. If Groupon continues to turn customers into bargain hunters and entitled shoppers, then Groupon will see a quick fall.

I purchased 2 KIVA Gift Certificate through the Groupon website. The next day, I got a terse e-mail, saying that my purchase amount had been refunded. I e-mailed them, asking what the issue was. No reply. I asked again, a day later, as I am a big fan of Kiva, and wanted to know if there was a problem. No reply. I went on Twitter, and suddenly, I got a reply… from a CSR who said I hadn’t purchased it in time. Except I had, and I called her on it. So she made up some other excuse… which was also transparently a fabrication. I finally got an apology on Twitter, with a brief explanation, saying it should have been taken off their website, but wasn’t.

I would LIKE to think that Groupon:

a) Would have honoured the purchases made, as KIVA is a Charity.
b) Would tell their CSR’s that lying is not a good thing.
c) Would have enough sense to protect their brand, and answer concerns quickly and efficiently.

I WOULD have thought that… but I would have been wrong.

Now, I am a Grooster customer, as Groupon has permanently lost me as a client.

Good luck with any future purchases… and CAVEAT EMPTOR… Let The Buyer Beware !!!

Happy New Year !!!

  • Anonymous

    I will continue to read my Groupon fine print but I will tell you with over a dozen Groupons redeemed I am happy, happy, happy – so far!

    Mostly, I use restaurant and retail groupons and every experience has been excellent. My most recent purchase, however, may be less than stellar but fully my fault. I bought the American Apparel groupon thinking this would be good for upcoming birthday gift purchases (a nice top, for instance) however, the stuff is over-the-top trendy and not great quality. Still, it will work. I had it confused with American Eagle Outfitters that have a bit more selection.

    Anyway, we ate our way through NYC this summer courtesy of Groupons and that was a GREAT way to see different parts of the city and it was all delish. Back at home on the westcoast of Canada, I am a semi-regular customer of the handmade chocolates that were my first Groupon. They make a great hostess gift instead of a bottle of wine (since our new driving laws mean I won’t be drinking.)

    Interesting experience… That’s the first I’ve heard of that happening with Groupon. Not surprised to find out that the site didn’t come down when it was suppose to.

    Bob, I agree that you they certainly need to have improved transparency that takes ownership and is transparent at that same time. You can’t be having negative CSR as the fastest growing company in the world.

    As with any business, there will always be road blocks, mistakes and uncontrollable variables. I think one thing that needs to be noted here, is that we are a advertising resource. Plain and simple. We cannot control every part of the process (as hard as we try). We are the middle man from a buyer to a company. What we can control is: intensive vendor prep, comprehensive fine print, step by step vendor instructions, links to the company’s website etc. But we cannot control the actions of the vendor, what is retained, what the purchaser does or doesn’t read before they purchase, and in the instance of Ticketmaster- the compatibility or cooperation of other third party sites who do not wish to collaborate with us.

    I know sometimes redemption can be a little tedious, but it is really important for our buyers to understand that the way they are set up are crucial to the businesses. Our redemptions are set up to insure that our vendors are able to catch fraudulent Groupons and track customer redemption.

    I am a buyer too, so I have definitely been there where the transaction isn’t as speedy as I would have liked. I think from a buyers perspective, we have to remind ourselves to be gracious with these redemption situations, since they really are for the greater good of both the vendor and the buyer (although for an instant gratification gal like me that is sometimes a bit obnoxious:)

    From a business perspective, most of our vendors are very very good with our subscribers (even the buyers who are not so good to them). In the oft case, where we have a vendor who does not live by our Groupon promise, we have a very flexible and understanding return policy. The reason we have this is we completely understand that we can’t control everything, and so in the instances where something is less than ideal for a subscriber we want a safety net in order to keep them coming back.

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