Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Groupon leaves me swinging in the breeze

What happens when you buy a discount offer, only to have the retailer invent new, more restrictive Terms of Use that make it more difficult to redeem? (Spoiler alert: The retailer WINS and you LOSE!)

Last year, I bought a LivingSocial deal for Nihon Whiskey Lounge, but when I tried to use it, the waitress told me that they don't accept LivingSocial vouchers during Happy Hour. This was not stipulated in terms of the offer, but I didn't complain to LivingSocial because I figured I'd be back another time anyway. Long story short, I never did make it back, and I ended up eating the cost of the voucher.

UPDATE: Groupon saves the day with excellent customer service. Read all the way to the end...

Now, I find myself dealing with a similar situation, this time with a Groupon deal for a round of golf at Metropolitan in Oakland. I tried to use the voucher for a round on either Saturday or Sunday of the upcoming 4th of July weekend. (The holiday is actually Monday). But the reservation agent said that Metropolitan won't accept Groupons during holiday weekends. I responded that the Groupon offer doesn't say anything about holiday weekends. She assured me I was wrong (even though I wasn't). - see for yourself.), and refused to make the reservation.

See if YOU can spot the "no holiday weekends" restriction!

I contacted and explained the situation. They responded within half an hour (impressive!) and said that they would "be happy to reach out to our merchant manager on your behalf to resolve this issue." Sounds great!

Time passes... Available tee times evaporate like morning dew on a hot fairway...

Two days later, after no further word from Groupon, I follow up with support@ and get a super-helpful response:
Hi Jim, 
I just got an email a couple hours ago from our rep saying that he was working on getting in touch with the business. If there's anything I can do to help in the meantime, please let me know! 
This is one great big FAIL for Groupon. If a retailer invents Terms of Use that do NOT appear on the agreement, they should get spanked hard and fast by Groupon (or LivingSocial, or whatever). My sense is, they don't.

After all, if I never use the purchased deal, Groupon WINS BIG. Not only do they keep the revenue share that came from my purchase, they also get to go to other retailers with alluring statistics about some percentage of customers who don't even redeem their purchased deals! It's like free money!
Just one of the many ways that Daily Deals are not always the good deals they seem to be. :-/


Turns out, you're not completely screwed when that voucher expires. From Groupon's blog:
"When a Groupon expires, customers can still redeem for the price they paid for the period of time defined by state law (5 years in Illinois). This is not new; it’s been in our terms of service and in every merchant contract since May of 2009 – when we were six months old and launched in two cities."
Check out the very last paragraph in Groupon's Terms of Service. And the same thing is true for vouchers from other providers like LivingSocial, Blissmo, Bloomspot, PopSugar, Schwaggle, etc.

Simply stated, once your voucher/coupon expires, you can still redeem the voucher for its purchase price. If the merchant refuses to do so, the service that sold you the voucher must refund your purchase price. See the links to Terms of Service at bottom for proof of this policy.


I received another email from Groupon Support on July 1:
I'm very sorry about our (lack of) resolution time. I completely agree that we were not able to come through for you, and you have every right to be disappointed in us.

I of course would be more than happy to issue a refund to you for this Groupon if you are uninterested in redeeming it in the future. I can issue the refund to your Groupon account or the credit card you used for purchase.

For the trouble, I have placed $15 credit in your account to use toward Groupon purchases.

The credit is available in your account immediately and does not expire...

Please let me know how you would like to proceed and if there's anything more that I can do to help.

I would give pretty high marks to Groupon Support. They've been responsive, and have admitted when their response was inadequate. I think this whole experience just reveals some inherent weakness in the Groupon model, both for retailers and customers. (I don't know what to say about the $15 credit. Not enough money to make up for the lost opportunity, really. Just... odd.)

Related: Terms of Service

Thursday, June 16, 2011


An ode to the joy and sorrow of renting from U-Haul.

On June 12, I reserved a 10' truck via, to be picked up at 11am from my local U-Haul store and returned within the standard four-hour rental period. Stated rate: $19.95 plus mileage.

Upon arrival, I was told that my truck was going out with "about a quarter tank" of gas, but if I returned it with at least a quarter tank, they would discount the rental charge from $19.95 to $9.95. (Sounded good, but in retrospect, not so. The truck actually had about one eighth of a tank of gas. This particular model of truck has a fuel capacity of 31 gallons. An eighth of that tank is 3.875 gallons, which at the current local price of $3.85/gallon comes to $14.92. So I lost a mere $4.92 in exchange for the minor inconvenience of partially refilling the tank. Meh.)

So I did my U-Hauling, no problems, driving 28.2 miles in total, and returned the truck (with a quarter tank of gas) well within the 4-hour time limit. The lot was chaos, and the place seemed severely understaffed. Once I found an attendant, she told me to just leave the keys in the vehicle, and I could be on my way. Done and done.

A few days later, I checked recent activities on my credit card, and discovered that U-Haul had charged me $68 instead of the anticipated $35 ($9.95 rental fee plus about $25 for mileage, at .89/mile). I called U-Haul and eventually found my way to the store manager in Concord. He said they had recorded the mileage from the WRONG truck, and over-charged me. Oops. He calculated the correct charge based on 29 miles, and said he would refund the difference to my credit card ASAP.

(Interestingly, he never apologized. He seemed vaguely interested, "Oh, I see what happened. Yeah… OK. We can fix that." - but never said he was sorry. I ended the call with, "Thanks for your help," to which he replied "No problem." Whatever…)

A couple of days later, I checked my credit card statement again, and lo and behold, not only was the refund NOT posted, but there was now a NEW charge of $21.79, in addition to the previous charge of $66.41! WTF!!!

I called U-Haul again, and after waiting over 10 minutes on hold, I spoke to a not-very-helpful CSR who offered some truly vague and incomprehensible reasoning behind the additional charge. She said a partial refund would be applied, but that it would take a few more days to post to my credit card account.

So I waited five more days, then checked my credit card statement again. This time, I saw a refund of $37.92 from U-Haul.

Hm, let's see: $66.41 + $21.79 = $88.20 - $37.92 = $50.28. I'm no math wiz, but I don't think $50.28 is the same as $35.

So I called U-Haul again. I got a first line phone rep, who listened to my tale of woe and then forwarded me to Customer Service. I waited on hold for 10 minutes, and then the call was dropped. WTF?

I called again, and explained to another first line rep what had just happend ("Call dropped, please get me to someone who can help.") She apologized, then forwarded me to Customer Service again. This time I only had to wait 7 minutes before the call was dropped. I guess that's an improvement.

At this point, I've invested about 45 minutes of my time, between calling, researching, and just plain pacing/fuming. So I'm out about $20 ($5 for the cost of extra gas and $15 for the what-have-you charges on my credit card) and nearly an hour of my life. I think I'll cut my losses and move on.

Wait... Let me first post this to Yelp and Twitter. There. OK, now I'm done.