Confused by the array of daily deal sites that are now available — some national, some local and some now coming directly from retailers themselves, some offer just one deal a day, some offer several? There are so many variations that it's possible to lose hours each week checking out various offers.
Groupon started it all, of course, launching just two short years ago in November 2008. Based on the principal that bulk buying would get better prices, Groupon offered one discount deal each day. Once a predetermined number of people bought into the deal, it was "on" for a short period of time, or until it sold out.
Groupon was an instant success and quickly spread from its home base of Chicago to other cities across the country. It's become so huge that it just spurned a reported $6 billion bid from Google to acquire the company.
Then came the imitators. Some try to mimic the original, others play with the daily deal concept and offer a limited quantity of items meant to create an aura of exclusivity and spur users to act fast or lose out. But not all deal a day sites are created equal.
Groupon remains the biggest, and as such is rolling out some truly eye-popping offers. New features let you track the big deal of the day and smaller offers customized to your city or interests. And every so often, there's a high profile national offer, like a recent Groupon for $25 off a $50 purchase at the Gap. It sold $11 million worth of certificates — about 10 every second — and traffic repeatedly crashed the site.
Here's a guide to five contenders to the throne:
- Living Social is another established site with a proven track record in this young industry. That's no small thing when you're shelling out cash in advance for a coupon deal. Living Social is in dozens of cities — big and small — and its growing list of "family edition" offers like $15 off a $390 purchase of kids shoes at Shoe Zoo in the Twin cities, helps differentiate it from the rest.
- Walmart has decided to go at it on its own instead of going through third parties like Groupon and Living Social. The chain's Value of the Day is listed on its Web site, but is really Facebook based. When enough people "like" the deal on Facebook, it's activated and everyone is notified via Facebook when it goes live so as not to miss out. Each product offered is described in detail, making comparison-shopping easy, and can be shipped to a local store for free. Walmart's regular return policies apply.
- Sears is another retailer that has its own 24-hour daily deal. Savings are clearly marked, but many of the items are Sears' house brands like Kemore or Craftsman. The brands have strong reputations, to be sure, but it's difficult to know just how accurate the savings are because there are no direct comparisons. Still, if you're in the market of a tool or household appliance, it's worth checking these first. Sears also has a second set of daily deals offered exclusively through Facebook, offering things like a freshwater pearl necklace for $39.99 (from $99.99). The hitch is that you have to allow a Facebook app to have access to your personal information — and your friends. We don't recommend these types of apps as they can expose you to hackers.
- Daily Candy is always a hip spot if you're into fashion, home and travel. Its daily deals come through its sub-sites, Swirl, which along with Gilt.com and One Kings Lane, offer limited quantities of designer goods at more than half off. Supplies are extremely limited.
- Jetsetter.com offers hotel, vacation and adventure offers to luxury locales at dramatically discounted prices. There are lots of travel deal sites popping up, but if you're suspicious of buying something you can't redeem because of black out dates, take heart. You will "apply" for membership, get told you've been added to the "waitlist," and within a day or two, you're registered. Don't let the aura of snootiness deter you. We booked two nights at a boutique hotel in Manhattan for an upcoming trip for half the price found on Expedia, Travelocity and Quickbook. An easy to use calendar right there on the page clearly spells out availability and rates. You don't have to be a real jetsetter to use the site but having the resources of one sure helps. A current deal for three days at the Skip Barber Racing School in Atlanta, including hotel and one meal a day, is a real bargain at $1,100 off. But it's still $3,500.
Laura Heller is a freelance writer based in Chicago who specializes in mass market retail trends and consumer electronics industries. You can follow her on Twitter @lfheller. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
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