THE PROBLEM WITH GROUPON

How many articles have appeared recently, raving about the genius simple idea that is Groupon, and quoting the millions and millions of dollars that it is now worth? Who has been immune to subscription, not just to Groupon, but the army of imitators: Coast Mart, Kijiji Daily Deals, Steal the Deal, Live Social or whatever?

And how many expired coupons do you have, Gentle Reader, tucked in the depth of your Inbox,  for massages and spas you didn’t need, Greek and Italian food you didn’t want, tanning and hair extensions, photo framing, bike hires… The list goes on- a huge array of absolutely useless and expensive  services. I have one from last year, a ride on Theo Tugboat which I bought in the thrill of my early days of subscription. It gathered dust on my desk for a few weeks, and finally expired after I went on my huge summer voyage.  The earth didn’t stop moving. And even though I was suckered into spending 20 dollars or whatever on the stupid Tugboat coupon, I actually “saved” more than that by not actually using it, and letting it expire. So I consoled myself…

Kurt Cobain famously commented that people who buy his album are like sheep, and the Groupon theory is based on the sheeplike behaviour of consumers. It boasts that it is “saving” consumers money, whereas in fact it is merely encouraging them to spend their money on totally pointless fripperies which they wouldn’t have even looked at if it hadn’t been for the coupon. Look: you are not “saving” money when you don’t need to spend it, or wouldn’t have spent if you hadn’t bought the coupon (and spent money) in the first place!

Just look at the last five things which plopped in my Inbox this morning: $20 gift certificate for a comics and games shop, $20 gift for a bowling alley, “up to” 59% off an Italian restaurant, $15 towards hair extensions and a beauty makeover…

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no anti-consumerist organic-oats-munching, solar-power-driving Margaret Atwood- I’m all for a spot of nice luxury, and I am too economically uneducated to see anything wrong with properly regulated consumerism. Nor is my complaint that I am receiving “deals” which I personally find uninteresting. Which is not the case: I have gone bowling, I have dined at Italian restaurants, I have had a beauty makeover (a free one, and I was a bit alarmed by the results, but still), I have visited spas, and may conceivably engage in these activities again in the future.

No, what I resent is the attempt to shape and encourage the freer flow of my already limited spending power. The coupons hijack the spontaneity of my shopping, and destroy my own decision-making about what I want to spend, where, and when. I don’t want to go to a particular restaurant simply because I have already spent $30 on a coupon for it  and it will expire tomorrow, I want to go because I heard they had an interesting menu,  good service, and a wonderful happy hour.  Groupon may think that by selling me a $30 coupon, they are helping me “save” money- that is wholly, totally untrue- they are in fact making me spend more money  by committing me to a purchase which I probably would never have thought of if they hadn’t suckered me into buying the damn coupon.

Dear reader: coupons went out with the war. Take charge of your wallet. Buy what you want, when you want it. Stop obssessing about the coupons. Start obssessing over your money.

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