People looking for last-minute Christmas gifts should be wary if shopping on discount site Groupon, after we found a series of misleading deals in a snapshot investigation.
We looked at deals listed between October and November 2018, and discovered 14 instances that may have misled customers, including:
- ‘Deals’ where the recommended retail price was higher than stated on the manufacturer’s website.
- Products that were widely available for much cheaper than suggested.
- Advertising images of products that were excluded in the small print of the Groupon voucher.
We also found plenty of deals that seemed genuine – though our research shows that it may not be a good idea to take them all at face value.
With Christmas on the horizon, and many people turning to Groupon and other discount websites for last-minute gift ideas, read on for more details on how to make sure you’re getting a genuine deal.
Find out how customers rated Groupon in our best and worst online shops survey.
In five instances we found deals on Groupon showing an RRP that was very different from that advertised on the manufacturer’s website.
*This price was removed before we contacted Groupon with our findings.
These included HP printer ink that appeared on Groupon with an RRP of £13.27, and was selling for £9.95. On HP’s official site, the same ink was priced at £9.89, with no apparent discount.
We also found a cocktail masterclass at a London venue called The Goat. The deal on Groupon showed this weekly event at a value of £50, reduced to £16. The Goat’s official website, however, showed the cost at £16 as a standard price.
Cheaper deals elsewhere
Other cases underlined the importance of shopping around – we found a number of deals where products were similarly discounted or could be found cheaper elsewhere. These included:
- A Silentnight Airmax Mattress Topper that was around half the original price shown on Groupon, via other retailers.
- A My Play medieval castle toy that was displayed on Groupon with a price of £99.90, reduced to £21.98, but was on sale for £19.99 on Amazon.
- A spa offer, including spa access, treatments and bubbly for two, was advertised at £139 with a claimed 65% off (full price £402). The hotel itself sold it for the same price and said the full price was £94 less than shown on Groupon.
Check the small print
We also found a couple of deals that were potentially misleading for different reasons.
One offered a choice of burger, side and bottomless drink for 52% off, and was accompanied by a picture of a double-decker cheeseburger. But the burger pictured wasn’t included in the deal, as stated in the small print.
A wedding package was advertised as ‘£3,000 with 58% off (full price £7,205)’, but it would only have cost that much on a Saturday in December. Those looking to book in January or February would pay £5,205.
What did Groupon and its suppliers say?
We asked Groupon for information on how the original and deal prices are found or set, and whether these come from the supplier of the goods or services. They didn’t respond to this query.
We also contacted the activity organisers and manufacturers to find out how they interact with Groupon, but only two responded. One supplier told us that they sell their goods to other companies, who then resell to Groupon. This makes it particularly tricky to know exactly where your goods are coming from, and whether you’re getting a good deal or not.
Regarding the dodgy deals we uncovered, Groupon did tell us that it reviews deals as part of its constant review of pricing practices, and that transparency on pricing is incredibly important to it.
Since we contacted Groupon with our findings, it quickly removed all of the deals, misleading images or prices flagged as part of our investigation.
We’ve also investigated short-break vouchers sold on sites like Groupon, and found that many holiday vouchers on deal sites are too good to be true.
Is it safe to shop on Groupon?
While we did find a number of misleading deals on Groupon’s website, we also saw a lot that appeared to be genuine and good value for money. Deals can still be found, but you’d be wise to remember some best practice before shopping around for last-minute Christmas gifts.
Use of unsubstantiated higher or out of-date retail prices is a common way retailers find themselves in breach of the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) codes of practice.
The ASA challenged Groupon earlier this year over an ad for men’s shoes after it was found that the ‘was’ price didn’t represent a genuine saving. It claimed it had used an out-of-date RRP, which was then fixed.
Another showed it promoting an offer on toilet rolls, with the complainant again challenging that the savings claim was misleading. The complaint was upheld, and the ASA ruled the ad must not appear again in its current form.
Tips for using Groupon effectively
Whenever using a deals site to buy goods, activities or holidays, we’d always recommend doing your own research, and not taking everything at face value.
- Check prices elsewhere – if you see a deal that states ‘was £x, now £x’ or ‘was £x, now y% off’, don’t always believe it. A quick search on the internet will tell you whether this is accurate compared to current prices.
- Shop direct – if you’re buying an activity, such as a spa day or climbing session, or a stay at a hotel, check the supplier website before purchasing. You may find a better deal, and it can be a good way to explore the destination.
- Compare customer reviews – Groupon lists customer reviews, but have a look elsewhere too. One spa deal we found scored 4.7 stars on Groupon, but the hotel received mixed reviews on other review sites.
- Check for extra costs or date limitations. Postage is usually required with product purchases, so always take this into account, as well as delivery time.
- Read the small print – checking the small print can ensure you know exactly what you’re buying, and that there are no unexpected restrictions. Also check expiry dates on vouchers and the days of the week they can be used – many experiences are only available Sunday to Thursday, or exclude specific days or holiday periods.