Is it a deal? Saving money on spending or impulse purchases

You can’t open the paper lately without being told “Thou shalt Steal The Deal.” Full-page, colour ads with masked models smile back at us as they have supposedly saved money on restaurants, salons, golf, and more.

Steal The Deal follows on the heels of other group buy sites, such as Groupon, Living Social, and WagJag. The premise is brilliant, even if people are actively avoiding malls to keep their budget in line. Once you sign up for one of these sites, daily email deals sneak past your mall-evading manoeuvres and land in your inbox.

Every day it’s a new deal, and they really do seem like a steal at up to 90% off the regular price. The daily coupon may not be something you’d typically use, but when it is 50% to 90% off, isn’t it wrong to let a deal like this go by? The problem is that 50% off something you wouldn’t normally buy still has you spending an additional 50% that was not in your plan. Since it’s a good deal (a steal, some would say) you just don’t want to miss out.

The buying process is quick and easy. You click the buy button, fill in the payment information, and receive a confirmation email almost instantly, followed by the voucher that you then redeem with the vendor. Check the fine print for any restrictions as to when you can redeem the voucher.

You might ask what’s the catch? Well, the deal isn’t “on” until enough people sign up for it. So if there is a deal that appeals to you, you are encouraged to send it to all of your friends or family and get them to buy it, too. What a smart business idea: get word of mouth working for businesses, since personal word of mouth is more effective and trusted than advertising.

As a consumer, you start off tempted by the savings, and then are converted (pressured) to “buy it NOW” as these deals are typically only available for the day. Not unlike the time-limited television shopping channels, group discount sites are definitely perfecting the “call to action.” Getting a good deal seems like a win when you get it before time runs out. Again, it’s a great business concept: get people to act, and act quickly, and feel the rush of the win, or potentially the sadness of the loss.

Our email inbox basically becomes like the candy displayed at the grocery checkout. It’s so tempting. It’s so in your face. It doesn’t cost that much, and if you don’t get it right then, you feel like you missed out. The impulse buy, once reserved for stores, is now brought right to your home or office.

The site personalization helps you potentially buy even more stuff you don’t need. You pick your relevant city and sometimes interests. This way you see deals for where you live, or you can sign up for cities where you travel, such as when I used Groupon to save on entertainment in Las Vegas.

Locally, I’ve already bought $20 of pizza for $10, and car rust proofing worth $50 for $25, as these are things I would buy anyway. (You have to have the self-control to only buy the items that you would normally purchase in order to truly save.)

There are also a number of items that have tempted me because they are deeply discounted, prompting me to consider trying something new, such as an organic facial, guitar lessons, hot yoga, bartender classes, or a helicopter ride. So far I have resisted.

Steal The Deal is a great model for newspapers to compensate for classified advertising dollars lost to Internet sites. Their constant advertising in print gives them an edge over the online competitors as long as they can come up with enough interesting deals for locals. If they don’t have products that people want with meaningful discounts, they will lose subscribers quickly. Since many retailers don’t understand the concept yet, and good retailers may not need the exposure, getting the right vendors involved might be a challenge.

I like the concept, because it has to do with saving money, but I do worry about the weak of wallet, as these inbox invading deals (that we have welcomed) are often too tempting to pass up. They reach all of us who are avoiding splurging on impulse purchases at malls and stores; making it oh so easy to buy more things that we really don’t need, all without having to get off the couch.

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