I'm David Eckoff. I'm on a mission to help businesses and consumers in Virginia-Highland use social media and technology to their advantage.
This week in part three, we'll explore what consumers need to know to make the most of "deal of the day" services.
My top seven suggestions:
1. Tell your friends about a LivingSocial deal and get yours free.
When LivingSocial offered a great deal for an Amazon gift certificate in January, I referred three friends who purchased the deal, and got my deal free. Free makes me happy. Very happy.
If you like free, here's how you can do it, too.
After you purchase a LivingSocial deal, you'll receive a unique referral link to share with friends, family, and co-workers. E-mail it, share it on Facebook, post it to Twitter. When at least three people use your unique link to buy the deal, you'll receive your deal for free.
How can this help you in Virginia-Highland? If you knew this tip in October, you could have gotten a $35 certificate for the deal - for free, with almost no extra effort. Now you know. And you can get your next local deal free.
2. Scoutmob coupon codes are free – load up on the deals that you love.
Unlike Groupon and LivingSocial, when you see a Scoutmob deal that you like, you don't need to buy anything up front. The coupon code is free.
"I like Scoutmob because it requires no upfront purchase and has fewer restrictions or strings attached," Virginia-Highland resident Liam Pelot told Patch.
Atlanta resident and frequent visitor to Virginia-Highland Runako Godfrey agreed.
"I love Scoutmob, which doesn't make you buy coupon. Scoutmob is zero risk," Godfrey said.
So when you see a deal that you love, you can load up on coupons, using the following method.
Request one coupon sent via text message to your mobile phone. Then request one coupon sent to your personal e-mail address. And another sent to another personal e-mail address. There's no limit to the number of coupons you can have sent to different e-mail addresses. Lather, rinse, repeat.
3. Keep track of expiration dates for your deals - set a reminder on your calendar.
If you use an online calendar, set an automated reminder about expiration dates on your coupons, so you don't forget about them and use them before they expire.
And while we're talking about scheduling: avoid waiting until the last week or the last day of the offer to make a reservation or redeem your coupon. The last week and the last day of an offer can be a mob scene.
4. Have a coupon you can't use? Miss out on a deal? Buy and sell coupons in the new online marketplaces.
Think of these aftermarkets as similar to Stubhub (owned by eBay), where people buy and sell event tickets. But on these sites, people buy and sell coupons for Groupon, LivingSocial and other daily deal services.
I like Lifesta, for it's functionality and number of listings for Atlanta.
If you have a deal voucher you can't use, Lifesta can be a great way to sell it. It costs nothing to list a deal. After a buyer purchases your voucher, Lifesta charges the seller 99 cents plus 8% of the sale price.
Lifesta can be a great way to get a deal voucher if you missed out on it the one day it was originally available on Groupon or LivingSocial. Deals stay up on Lifesta until they sell, expire, or the seller removes the listing.
Lifesta does not charge buyers any fees beyond the price of the deal, as listed by the seller. You pay online via Amazon Payments. And the deal voucher will be available in electronic format (.pdf or image format) in your Lifesta account as soon as your payment is processed.
As with aftermarkets for digital tickets, you want to be sure that you're not getting ripped off by a scam artist selling the same coupon code to multiple people. I like Lifesta's "Deal Guarantee", which helps protect you from bad sellers.
5. Compare prices to be sure you're getting a deal.
There are reports of some merchants artificially raising prices just before offering a social shopping deal. If so, that means that sometimes the deal may not be good as you think it is.
Benjamin Lotan, founder of Social Print Shop, tells me it is worse than is commonly known. In a phone conversation, Lotan said that sales reps for Groupon and LivingSocial told him to double the price of his product for a month to make things work for him giving a 50 percent off deal.
I hate thinking that some merchants may be doing this on their own. But even worse if any Groupon and LivingSocial sales reps are suggesting that to merchants.
I spoke with Groupon to get their take and spokesperson Julie Mossler said this is absolutely not Groupon's policy.
"This is never a practice we'd endorse," Mossler said.
LivingSocial did not respond to a request for comment about Lotan's statement.
The lesson learned: be a savvy shopper and compare prices before buying, and you'll get a good deal.
6. Call Groupon or LivingSocial to resolve any problems.
If things go wrong with your Groupon or LivingSocial deal, call their customer service and request a refund. Call Groupon toll free at 877-788-7858. Call LivingSocial toll free at 877-521-4191.
When you call Groupon, invoke the Groupon Promise:
"If Groupon ever lets you down, we'll return your purchase—simple as that. Why? Because when we do a bad job, we want it to be easy for you to punish us. We believe that when a customer has a bad experience, companies pay for it sooner or later—so we'd rather pay fast so we can make things right before it's too late."
LivingSocial says returns are handled on a case-by-case basis. However, if a merchant goes out of business, contact LivingSocial and they say they will issue a refund promptly.
If your desired outcome is to quickly resolve a problem, I recommend calling, and having a polite discussion with a rep from the company. A live conversation can be more effective than e-mail in these situations.
E-mail lacks the nuances of non-verbal communication that can help in expressing your concerns; e-mail also has too much delay in the back and forth of any follow ups.
Last June, Virginia-Highland resident Holly Dunham purchased a Groupon for a "2 hour cocktails and canvas" class at a local make-your-own-painting studio. She paid $10 for the deal.
When she went to redeem her Groupon, she discovered that all the studio's classes were 3 hours and required an extra fee.
"I felt misled by this deal," Dunham told Patch. "There had been nothing in the fine print or otherwise when it was offered indicating that choices would be extremely limited or downright nonexistent."
After trying to resolve the problem with the merchant without success, Dunham contacted Groupon via the company's online contact form, and requested a refund.
"I contacted Groupon three times over six weeks and never received a response," Dunham said. "So I wrote off the $10 as a stupidity tax."
Customer Not Happy
Dunham says she eventually heard back from Groupon in November, however in a canned response, the company refused to issue a refund. Johson gave up. But she also told a lot of people about her negative experience.
"Had I obtained the refund from Groupon, I would have continued purchasing from them - they do offer some great deals", Dunham said. "But being unable to obtain a refund when the deal didn't turn out to be quite as advertised left me with a bad taste."
Referring to the Groupon Promise, Dunham says that as a result of her experience, Groupon did pay the price indirectly.
"I let my family and friends who were using Groupon know about it," Dunham said. "They all quit buying Groupon deals, afraid they might possibly have an experience like mine. Groupon lost a dozen customers because of $10."
What Groupon Told Me
I called Groupon and asked for comment about Dunham's experience.
"I can't explain why it took so long for Groupon to get back to Holly," customer service representative Joel told said. "We recently grew from 25 employees to over 170. We were a very small startup and have expanded. We apologize. If we she had followed up, we probably would have issued a credit."
Groupon agreed that the response Groupon had sent Dunham in November came up short.
"It looks like it was a canned response, probably by a temporary customer service rep," Joel said. "The rep should have written something more specific to Holly. It should have been handled under the Groupon promise."
Resolving the Problem
Joel said he would issue a $10.00 refund to Dunham's credit card. Groupon also issued a $10 credit to Dunham's Groupon account, if she'd like to try to the service again.
"Groupon sent an additional follow up email to Holly again explaining the situation, apologizing for all of the confusion and any miscommunication on our part," Groupon spokesperson Kelsey O'Neill said. "We've asked her to let us know what we can do to help rectify this in a way that she sees fit."
Yet another e-mail, with "tag you're it." I like Groupon a lot, but that approach could be improved. At this point, Groupon should take the lead and schedule a call with Dunham. A live conversation can work wonders with unhappy customers.
From talking with Dunham, she's not impressed with how Groupon handled this after the fact. I've encouraged her to call Groupon to discuss the issue and explain what Groupon could do to make her happy.
Lesson learned: if you're a consumer seeking to resolve problems with Groupon or LivingSocial, don't get bogged down by e-mail. Call them and speak with customer service. This will save you time, and in my experience get you the best results.
7. If you're going on vacation, check Groupon, LivingSocial, Scoutmob and aftermarket sites for deals in that city.
You use Groupon, LivingSocial and Scoutmob for Atlanta and Virginia-Highland. Now take the show on the road. As soon as you know you will be traveling, sign up temporally for deals for that city. You can get some great deals for restaurants, city tours and museums.
The bottom line: With daily deals, you can save money and enjoy using them. Follow these seven tips and you'll get the most out of your deals.