April 17, 2012

Goupon and Its Possible Demise:

How the deal-giving company backtracks on its promises

The Groupon promise has been a stalwart symbol of the online site's promise to its customers since its inception. Put simply, it states that if people are let down from their experience with the site, their purchases will be returned or the company will make things right. However, when push comes to shove, things aren't quite as clear cut. Customer service representatives state that the promise provided on the site is intentionally vague so the company can, in effect, get out of honoring it.

One man’s troubles began last year when he bought a Groupon for a hotel stay in California. He bought it precisely because he'd written several bits of negative publicity about the company, and figured a two night stay in California would give him a chance to write a story on their behalf. This was his goal. The price wasn't the best, but he went with it. This was where things started to go wrong.

First of all, when he called the hotel so he could reserve his stay, he found out the Groupon code wouldn't work for the weekend he planned on traveling. This was because Groupon didn't confirm whether or not the place would be available when he purchased it, which is something other travel sites do. As a result, they didn't know whether or not he'd actually have a room. Similarly, unlike most other travel sites, Groupon doesn't let people know about blackout dates, taxes, and restrictions on availability.

At any rate, he called and found out that even though the rooms were there, they weren't going to go with Groupon's code for his dates. The representative informed him that he needed to deal with Groupon, not them. The author pointed out that he'd been at the hotel before, meaning that he needed to deal with them. However, they didn't buy it, which meant he needed to book a different hotel.

Six months later, he used the Groupon code for another California trip, and got just about the worst room in the hotel, and an internet connection that didn't work. Upon his return, fed up, he asked for a refund, based on the far reaching promise of Groupon. All they offered was a measly store credit. After multiple contact attempts, he went to the PR department to clarify the meaning of the Groupon promise, but got the runaround.

More broadly, Groupon has been getting the heat from a number of trade commissions for its vague and unenforced promise. The Federal Trade Commission stated they'd potentially look into the case if Groupon was found to be engaging in mass deceptions and unfair practices affecting commerce.

This isn't the first time Groupon has faced such troubles. In the United Kingdom, it was recently forced to accept closer reviews from the Office of Fair Trading. The concerns about Groupon ranged from its trading practices to its delivery of services that weren't as they were advertised. Groupon stated that it would give up any details of consumer complaints in the coming months. It is likely that their backhanded practices may finally be catching up to them.

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