Diana Clement 's Opinion

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Diana Clement: Daily deal sites can be a dangerous habit

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Daily promotions are yet another attack on our budgets - one that many can't resist. Photo / Getty Images
Daily promotions are yet another attack on our budgets - one that many can't resist. Photo / Getty Images

My inbox is flooded with daily deal emails. Every morning there are offers for everything from teeth-whitening at bargain prices to mega-cheap gym memberships and half-price sushi, to name a few.

Just last weekend I trotted off to the Mad Butcher with a $25 voucher entitling me to $40 of meat. And the very same day I bought a $10 ticket to any movie at the Bridgeway Cinema: normal price $16.

Kiwis like me have fallen in love with these daily deal sites. But are they good for our personal finances? I fear not. They're an exceptionally clever way to extract cash from us - capitalising on irrational and illogical human behaviour.

Marketers, bless their cotton socks, have invented all sorts of new takes on old marketing tricks to part man from money. Online auctions are one that appeal to the human psyche and cause us to spend more than we might otherwise in the heat of the moment. Another is the grab-a-seat-type sales offered by Air New Zealand and the like.

Coupled with easy credit from credit cards, people are buying today and paying tomorrow in ever greater numbers. A whole generation or two have grown up believing that credit limits are their money and a credit card debt is the norm.

Daily deals are yet another attack on our budgets. They are difficult to resist for many people.

Don't get me wrong. I have bought a few of these daily deals without any regrets when I've come back to earth. I've written articles about how to have a weekend away at bargain prices by using these deals effectively. In one case, it was a weekend in Rotorua where everything from hotel to activities and food were bought using GrabOne.

With my personal finance hat on, however, I have to tut tut at the people who get carried away on these sites. You might buy something that is discounted by 75 per cent, but if you didn't need it in the first place, you haven't saved yourself a cent.

Daily deal sites capitalise on such psychological failings as a lack of self-esteem or a feeling of entitlement that lead people to buy things they don't need, can't afford, or, even worse, they buy on credit.

I've considered unsubscribing, or setting up a mailbox especially for these emails from GrabOne, Cudo, Treat Me, Groupon, Daily Do and others. But some deals are just too good and I really do want to read about them.

Some offers are worse for your wealth than others. A $10 Bridgeway ticket isn't going to bankrupt me - and I go there from time to time so it doesn't represent extra spending.

The offers to be avoided are for ongoing services, such as the "discounted" chiropractic visits and investment seminars, whose aim is to get their hooks into you.

Also be wary of the deal that the buyer understands is for a one-off product or service, paid for by credit card, which they then notice is being debited for unexpected or ongoing charges or "membership".

The best advice before taking up any such offer is to read the fine print.

Don't get me wrong. Cudo, for instance, has some fine deals. One that I eyed this week was for two nights in a beachfront villa at Papamoa Top 10 for $255, which was cheaper than anything the Papamoa Top 10 had on Wotif.com between now and November, when the deal expires. The deal interested me because we've stayed at this place before and the kids are dying to go back.

What is important for anyone hoping to manage their finances is the psychology of the daily deals. The masses get giddy with excitement and grab the deal before thinking. Sometimes that even involves buying deals people wouldn't otherwise be interested in. That's the daily deal effect.

My warnings to consumers are slightly at odds with the motivation of businesses that offer vouchers. Businesses are either looking for new customers, which neither the Bridgeway nor Mad Butcher has got with me, or upselling, which again didn't work.

Some vouchers are not redeemed before the expiry date, as well - which is really throwing money down the toilet.

The fact that deals can go viral has helped these businesses, and plays on consumers' weaknesses. A classic example was the Bridgeway deal. I bought one and emailed my regular movie buddies, who bought vouchers as well. Getting the best out of these deals and not spending more than you would otherwise requires a great deal of organisation and cunning. If you have these qualities, the likelihood is that you're pretty good at managing your personal finances anyway.

I believe it's my duty to my bank balance to ensure that I'm fully in control of my spending. With the Mad Butcher deal, for example, I only bought meat I would have bought anyway, meaning I wasn't parting with any additional money.

Some customers will be swayed to buy products they wouldn't ordinarily consider. Perhaps they buy eye fillet instead of rump steak because the voucher makes it cheaper than usual.

In my case, I stock up large on whatever this week's best-value items are, such as last weekend's $10.99 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, and it was no different when I spent my $40 voucher.

The only time I deviate from those principles is when the offer relates to something I have fully intended buying or doing, but haven't got around to.

A case in point was that I'd been promising my kids for a couple of years that I'd take them to Rainbow's End, but baulked at the idea of spending $112 for entry - plus related food, drink and candyfloss - for an afternoon out. Along came a Rainbow's End GrabOne offer at the beginning of winter and, at $72, I managed to punch in my credit card details and the long-talked-about outing finally happened.

Daily deals do a great job at creating the idea of scarcity, which causes people to take action. "I've got to buy it now or it will be too late."

"The promotion's short time-frame - usually one day - creates a sense of urgency to buy, and makes the anticipation of waiting for the next Groupon an exciting daily game," says researcher Utpal Dholakia, an associate professor of marketing at the Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University, who has researched the phenomenon.

The Urban Dictionary has even coined the phrase "groupon anxiety", which refers to "the preoccupation and feeling of anxiousness and not being able to sleep knowing that a new Groupon deal will be released after 1am".

The antidote to daily deal websites lies in good old-fashioned logic:

* Beware of specials. They're not always a good deal but are designed to trigger your impulses.

* Find some mantras that stop you acting impulsively, such as "do I really need it?"

* Don't swallow once-in-a-lifetime offers. There will always be another deal.

* Budget, and spend within it.

- NZ Herald

Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Diana Clement is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance and careers. She has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years in both New Zealand and the UK. Diana has contributed to a large number of local and international publications. Her pet topic is the secrets of saving money.

Read more by Diana Clement

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