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 April 23, 2012  Posted by  Shopping

Daily deal websites such as Groupon and Living Social are a popular resource of the frugal. Many consumers would never plan a restaurant trip or an evening of entertainment before first checking to see if there was a daily deal available, and for good reason. It’s easy to save 50% off everything from meals to Zumba classes.

But before you click “Buy” make sure you think it through. There are some pitfalls associated with the daily deal market. It pays to be a savvy consumer. Here are some tips:

Read the fine print

Check for travel restrictions and blackout dates. If you’re buying a voucher for flower delivery, make sure you can use it on Mother’s Day. A new trend is for daily deal operators to offer deeply discounted resort stays that are really sales pitches. The fine print is similar to the familiar timeshare vacations: Travelers must be at least 25, have a certain income level, and be traveling together if married. The deals might still be worth it to some travelers, but it’s important to know the restrictions.

When 50% off isn’t really 50% off

“Half off” sounds great, but is it really half off? Maybe not. Look for the keyword “toward.” If a deal says “$100 for $200 toward a mattress” think about how much a mattress costs. If the least expensive one is $800, then the deal is really “$100 off an $800 mattress.” This discount may be similar to sales the business routinely offers, but the difference is that, in this case, you’re paying $100 up front, which limits your ability to comparison shop.

Also, sometimes the deal is for a specific product, rather than 50% off your order. Make sure to check the price of that product on various websites, and make sure that the daily deal price is the best one you can find. When you shop around, consider shipping costs as well.

Oops, I did it again

Forgot to use that voucher, that is. Keep track of the expiration dates of your daily deals so that you don’t miss out. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that even after the expiration date, in many cases, you still can use the voucher for the amount you paid. Another thing to remember is that the best daily deal sites are very good about offering refunds when you email customer support before the expiration date. So if you’re starting to suspect that you won’t be taking that pole dancing class after all, it’s worth a shot to try to get a refund.

Here today, gone tomorrow

Daily deal sites seem to be popping up every day, and disappearing just as frequently. If you’re stuck with a voucher from a defunct daily deal site it can be a hassle to get the business to honor it, and you certainly won’t be able to get a refund from the daily deal site if you have a problem. Before you purchase a deal from a new daily deal site, look around the website for customer service. You should be able to find a phone number and an email address. If you have trouble figuring out how to contact customer service, do not buy a voucher from that site. In the case of daily deal sites, sticking to the more widely known sites may be the safer choice.

Jody Mace

Jody Mace is a freelance writer who has written for publications like O Magazine, Washington Post, and Parents. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two teenaged kids. Her colleagues are dogs named Harlow and Shaggy. She publishes Charlotte on the Cheap and takes the “cheap” seriously. For fun she plays mandolin and browses at her local Goodwill Store, where she is “Foursquare Mayor,” as long as that Russell G. doesn’t steal it from her again. You can see her celebration of thrift store finds at Thrift Wrecks.

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