Groupon fix for furniture shoppers ends only in a bad trip

Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Andrew Mason, founder and chief executive officer of Groupon Inc., talks about the company's growth and business model. Groupon offers a daily bargain to local shoppers through its website. Mason speaks with Carol Massar and Matt Miller on Bloomberg Television's "Street Smart." (Source: Bloomberg)
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 18, 2010; 6:38 PM

I seriously doubt the acanthus leaf carvings or the turned, bun feet of the $2,400 cherry sleigh bed fit for a French king (or a nouveau riche Desperate Housewife) was what the Grouponers had in mind.

But all weekend long, they stood there in the parking lot of a Prince George's County strip mall, holding their Groupons, dazed by a $45 furniture deal that had gone sour.

"This just isn't in the spirit of Groupon," one outraged 26-year-old bargain hunter told me.

I nodded in agreement, flipping my bouncy, $32 Groupon haircut.

Groupon, in case you haven't heard of it yet, is an online social network that uses the buying power of its members to negotiate dramatically deep discounts for all kinds of goods and services.

For example, if enough people who belong to Groupon agree to pay $12 for a deal at a new eatery, they'll get $25 worth of food at the restaurant offering the bargain. It almost always works, because the tipping point is usually something like 30 people, and by the end of the day, up to 6,000 may buy in.

For a coupon addict like me, Groupon is like discount heroin. There's a deadline to purchase the Groupon - the site lists exactly how many minutes are left before the offer expires and how many people have already bought into this incredible deal-- that leads to Vegas-like bad decisions. Unlike regular coupons, you have to put the money up first, so a crumpled, expired Groupon in your purse is the same as throwing cash away. And of course, there's the point at which the exercise in frugality turns into a wallet full of coupons for balloon rides, wine tastings and massages, which is typical Groupon fare.

Discipline. Restraint. Rational thinking is essential.

So naturally, as the person in charge of the family finances, I haven't paid the power bill this month but bought a meal at a vegetarian restaurant and a family membership to an Appalachian hiking club.

Sometimes, the places that offer really useful Groupons are a little obscure. My Groupon hair salon was hidden deep inside a slightly worn, retirement-feeling apartment building. It was next to the barber shop and the grocery store with a lunch counter that smelled of fried bacon.

Even so, my haircut was expertly done, more precise and skillful than the great splurge in Miami Beach years ago that cost almost as much as two weeks of childcare. A mix of customers came and went, and I felt like I was in on something.

Because we need a new bookshelf for the kids' room more than the hiking club (but not more than electricity), I considered going back to the Groupon well once more: the Cozi Furniture store offering of $250 worth of furniture for $45. It seemed like a no-brainer. Their Web site showed lots of cool office furniture, including really nice bookshelves for about $200.

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