Trying to take advantage of all those Groupon deals

Marketplace's Jennifer Collins on a Segway tour in Long Beach.

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Tess Vigeland: Rumors abounded this week that Google will pay more than $5 billion for Groupon. That's one of the biggest online daily deal pushers, offering coupons for things like spas and restaurants and experiences.

We asked Marketplace's Jennifer Collins to sample as many of those deals as she could in a week, which is when she discovered the Groupon conundrum.


Jennifer Collins: This is me: Most nights after work, I curl up with a good book. Play a game of solitaire

Collins: Yes, I won again.

Enjoy a little light viewing.

TV: Tonight on "Frontline": Breaking the Bank.

This is me on Groupon.

Collins: Yeah!

Hanging on for dear life to the mechanical bull at Saddle Ranch Chop House. I dragged along a couple of girlfriends to help with my research.

Maria: We'll be cheering you on, so whenever you feel like you're ready.

Just in case you've missed out on the Groupon craze, here's how it works: The company sends you an e-mail everyday offering a half-price deal at a local store or restaurant. If enough people buy in, everyone gets the deal.

For Saddle Ranch, I brought along two half-priced Groupons. That would have given us $60 to spend on our apple pecan salad, our mai tais...

Maria: Along with the monster platter of appetizers, "ideal for two or more hungry ranchers."

Thing is, the restaurant would only take one Groupon per table -- and that left me with a tab of $30. Which brings me to Groupon lesson number one: Don't actually try to use your Groupon with a group. Maybe I'll have better luck with my next deal.

John Huntington: My name is John Huntington and I own Long Beach Hydrobikes.

Hydrobikes are like mini catamarans with pedals. Huntington rents them out by the hour. And when he offered half-priced rentals earlier this year on Groupon, he was swamped. It's not hard to see why.

Sound of water

Collins: Oh my goodness, did you see that pelican?

Liz: Whoa, he's eating a bird.

Problem was, Huntington only had seven bikes at the time. That brings us to Groupon lesson number two: Just because you buy it, doesn't mean you can use it anytime soon. You may have to wait weeks for a reservation.

Joseph Priester teaches marketing at the University of Southern California. He says people often jump on these deals simply because they're, well, deals.

Joseph Priester: So it seems really good, but when you actually get to the nuts and bolts of executing it. It might actually be difficult to ever find the time that you could redeem the coupon before it expires.

I'm still sitting on an Ethiopian dinner, a cooking class -- not to mention the Groupon left over from Saddle Ranch. I'm so stressed out by trying to use my Groupons, I'm going to need a Groupon for therapy.

So now, Groupon lesson number three: It can cost a lot to save money on Groupon. Take my next adventure: I spent 25 bucks on gas and three hours in traffic so that I could take advantage of a half-priced Segway rental. You know Segways, those two-wheeled things favored by mall cops.

Collins: I'm on a Segway in Long Beach. Pretty much the funniest thing anybody has ever seen.

Joseph Priester says we should put a value on all those hours we spend on Groupon.

Priester: So, the real consumption is time. And if you end up spending those minutes trying to do something that you normally wouldn't have normally done because you save $30, I think that's where it can get pernicious.

So does that mean I shouldn't take advantage of the deal I just saw, the 60 percent off for a spray tan?

Looking very pale in Los Angeles, I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.

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