When a Deal is Not a Deal – Buyer Beware

I am a sucker for a good deal – I use the word sucker because time and time again I think I am scoring a bargain when in reality I’m buying stuff I don’t need. I am a member of Groupon, Restaurant.com, DoubleTake Deals, Saveology, LivingSocial … and up until a few days ago – KGB Deals. I have dabbled on member-only shopping sites such as Beyond the Rack, Open Sky, NoMoreRack, and HauteLook to name a few, but dropped this habit when I lost my full-time job last June. In addition, these sites are frustrating because they tend to sell out in the first 45 seconds of the sale and rarely have my size. If you take a peek in my wallet you will find preferred cards from stores like Jewel-Osco, CVS Pharmacy, Dominick’s, etc. And I am a proud longstanding member of MyPoints, which is one of the best programs on the Internet.

Internet Deal Sites

Let’s start with my recent experience with KGB Deals. I bought a KGB Deals voucher for $10.50 for a $35.00 no-chip manicure at Salon 62. I started calling the salon in April to make an appointment since my voucher was going to expire on May 12. No answer during business hours for weeks on end, which I found odd. I left a message on their answering machine and nobody called me back. I decided to drive over there one day, again during business hours, only to find it dark with undelivered mail slips on the door. So I reported this to KGB Deals and they waited until May 11 to get back to me. Apparently there was some family emergency that shut down the business. When I called, Anna was rather snarky and wouldn’t bend on extending the life of the voucher. I was left with no choice but to change my plans and schedule an appointment for May 12.

I arrived a little early and – big surprise – Anna called in and said she would be late and not be able to keep my appointment. I had my nails done by Katrina, a surly 20ish goth girl who was clearly an amateurish underling. She gave each nail a rather cursory glancing rub with an emery board and pushed down my cuticles – this took about 5 minutes. I expected that a $35 manicure would include a bit of work on the nails to even them out. This certainly is what my few high maintenance gal pals have recounted.

This was an interesting experience, but so was doing my own nails with a toy manicure kit when I was 6-years-old! And guess what, my nails kind of look like a 6-year-old did them – uneven, lumpy, areas near the cuticles where the nail polish didn’t take – pretty awful. I tipped $2.00 so ended up spending $12.50 to discover what I already knew – manicures cannot change who I am. In any case, I wouldn’t recommend this salon to anyone and have unsubscribed to KGB Deals.


For the most part, Groupon has been a positive experience for me, but I have words of wisdom to share. If you aren’t familiar with the featured retail outlet’s merchandise selection or pricing, your deal might not be a deal. Case in point – Lakeview Art Supply. Although housed in a nice-looking storefront, this is a pathetic excuse for an art supply store. They may have a great framing service, but clearly the spartan selection of art supplies is an afterthought. Walmart has a better selection of art supplies! The small selection in itself is not so bad but everything is priced at full retail. Even with the Groupon I purchased, I still paid way more than I would have at Dick Blick, Utrecht, Hobby Lobby or any one of the wonderful online art supply discount outlets – and ended up with stuff I really didn’t want.

Other Groupon Deals – The Good, The Bad and The Tasty

I have purchased from Groupon far more than from any other site, racking up nearly 30 deals over a 3-year-period from which to perform a quasi-consumer value analysis. For the most part, food- and beverage-related deals have been worthwhile, but not always. Nearly all the retail outlets have been disappointing – either because the selection was slim or the prices too steep. Here is a sampling of my Groupon purchases:

  • LorEnn’s Card and Gift Outlet – Arlington Heights $20 for $10 – Really cool Hallmark outlet store with an interesting selection from its main stores. This is one of the best Groupons I have purchased.
  • Running Away Multisport – Deerfield $25 for $50 – Very difficult to find anything at this overpriced store. They had a meager selection of clothes except for small sizes. I ended up with a bike pump which I use and a pulsating light you can wear while running or biking which I have never used.
  • Knee Deep Vintage – Pilsen $10 for $20 – One of the best vintage stores in Chicago with a cool, eclectic selection. It was, however, a challenge to find something wearable – I bought a beautiful, but slightly impractical vintage sweater that is hanging in my closet, never worn. 
  • American Apparel – Chicagoland $25 for $50 with many exclusions – I bought this more for my daughter than myself for several reasons. I feel that American apparel is a rip-off with extremely overpriced merchandise and uninspired clothing that is often made of polyester in an effort to look retro.
  • Stellar26 – Lincoln Avenue $20 for $40 – A cute little boutique with a tiny, pricey selection of clothing. I was hard pressed to find anything in my size, but ended up with a cute, overpriced Roxy hot pink tank top and bedtime shorts – the shorts sit in the bottom of a dresser drawer unworn. They have since closed their doors, which doesn’t surprise me.
  • Superdawg – Wheeling $10 for $20 – A Superdawg, Superburger and two malts came to just over $22.00 – that is rather steep for a casual lunch, Groupon aside. Read more about this on my hot dog blog.
  • Fresh Farms International Market – Niles $10 for $20 – A great deal – if you can tolerate extremely rude shoppers and a serious bottleneck near the deli. This store has an awesome selection of intriguing delicacies from a melting pot of countries. Their produce has gotten a little pricey recently with the exception of featured sale items.
  • Fresh Farms International Market – Wheeling $10 for $20 – This location is very small compared to the Niles store. They have a respectable deli section and tend to be quite generous with cheese and deli meat samples, but have a very modest selection in every department, which made it a challenge to spend the $20 wisely.
  • Panozzo’s Italian Market – South Loop $10 for $20 – This little store is very convenient to where my daughter lives, but very overpriced. I guess I am spoiled by suburban Italian grocery stores like Joe Caputo & Sons in Palatine and Valli Produce in Arlington Heights. They sell a far greater selection of Italian delicacies for much less. I managed to spend the $20 but overpaid for similar products and didn’t get much bang for my buck.
  • Opera – South Loop $25 for $50 – What a shame that Chicago restaurateur and entrepreneur extraordinaire Jerry Kleiner closed Opera so abruptly. I think he overexpanded and ran into money issues. We loved the food and decor and with the Groupon, felt that we got an excellent deal.

I have scored some really good bargains on Groupon and Living Social, but more often than not, the old adage, “You get what you pay for” holds true – especially with the member-only shopping sites. If you are a saavy, discerning shopper, there are certainly excellent deals out there. I advise you to read the small print – very frequently sale items are excluded from your total purchase, as is sales tax.

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