A few days ago, I was compelled to make a decision I didn’t foresee. After riding countless mini-emotional rollercoasters set off by unread emails in my inbox that turn out to be very disappointing indeed, I kicked Living Social and Groupon to the curb. I wake up in the morning and no longer purge the requisite pair of messages from my inbox. No longer am I burdened by offers for tooth cleaning deep in the guts of Virginia. I shall no longer scramble to use long-ago clicked-upon cyber-deals before they expire and drift aimlessly into the vast unknown.
Like any break-up, it was a bit tough. After all, who doesn’t like discounts on wonderful things? When I first discovered the sites, I bought several deals from each. Over the course of several months, I snapped up coupons to Sala Thai, Camille’s Sidewalk Café, Lindy’s Red Lion, and the now defunct Pasha Bistro. It was impulsive, to be sure – and yet, as a new resident of DC, I justified the purchases by assuming that these new eateries might help acclimate me to my adopted city. As time went on, though, I started buying fewer and fewer deals before finally pulling the cyber-plug on America’s top two mass discounters. And according to recent numbers, customers have been fleeing en masse.
Still, the break-up might be temporary. Maybe I’ll drink too much sauvignon blanc, weep all my mascara off, and sloppily make out with Groupon the next time I see it at a party. Maybe I’ll see fuzzy iPhone photos on Facebook of Living Social with some girl with extensions wearing Hollister and get, like, really mad. But to win me back, these businesses have to make a change or two. Here are a few ways that Groupon and Living Social could prove to me that they’re worth it. And I hope they take my advice, because I am a non-profit program assistant with little disposable income and no business background. So, you know, my credentials are as solid as diamonds.
Alter the daily e-mail system
Saying that ‘people dislike spam email’ is about as insightful as saying ‘sometimes, it rains.’ Still, I was at first willing to stay on the mailing lists for mass discount sites because of the promise of legitimately good deals. I remember there being so many more relevant discounts in the old days – deals for restaurants and boutiques that I enjoyed, for example. Now, though, I keep getting offers for tooth cleaning and microdermabrasion. I think I have gotten five or six separate offers for architectural boat tours. Please. I don’t even know one person boring enough to do that with, let alone enough to necessitate two hands to count them all. In short, Groupon and Living Social emails were starting to feel like advertisements. They were getting really spammy. I felt like they were a single local business away from promising to help me enlarge my waist and shrink my penis (no – wait – REVERSE THAT.) I know that users can “personalize” the emails they receive by expressing a preference for cheap diners over costly anti-aging cosmetic procedures, but the contouring options struck me as overly vague. Users should be able to search within price limits, neighborhoods, types of food and percentage of discounts, and then should receive emails only when their search terms match a deal. Alternatively, Groupon and Living Social could send out one ‘preview’ email per week to clue people in on approaching deals. Curtailing the irrelevant daily emails will keep people engaged with what they are interested in.
Sell experiences, not just discounts
Even though I have bitched in the past, I can’t help but think that Gilt City DC is onto something with some of their events. There are a lot of lonely and bored people wandering around most cities, especially this one. If you consider the staggering number of temporary residents here as well as DC’s fondness for the sauce, you might begin to suspect that the people here are itching for company. Local business discounts are especially attractive to those new to a given area, and these markets could easily be combined. Because many newcomers to a given area are not flush with pals, they might dig taking their chances with a pre-planned party. What if, instead of selling a coupon to a bar, Groupon and Living Social sold tickets to an open bar party? (I almost typed ‘mixer,’ but deleted it because I hated myself.) It would be a fun way to meet people, and would get people a little more excited than a discount on its own. Adding a little swag could go a long way, too. What about a wee gift bag with the purchase of a coupon to a boutique? A special appetizer and entrée deal for Groupon holders? That would make me feel important, which is something I am more than willing to pay for.
Recognize genius when you see it
I once applied for a copy writing position at Living Social and got immediately rejected. Yeah, well, Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team. I bet Ted Kaczynski didn’t make Harvard’s bomb and log cabin building squad, either. Um, you don’t think they give free wordpress blogs to just anyone, do you?
- A not-in-need-of-an-expensive-facial Natalie