By Emily Fredrix, AP Retail Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Shoppers are enjoying new bargaining power thanks to the online group discount craze.
But retailers signing up with websites to blast out these daily discounts may end up deciding group coupons are a better deal for shoppers than businesses because they don't produce loyal customers, experts say. And merchants may soon shut the spigot.
So enjoy the bounty now of half-price facials and yoga classes and deep discounts on fancy dinners, bike rentals, boat rides and more.
Groupon.com is credited with starting the trend, which now includes such sites as Buywithme.com, Lifebooker.com, livingsocial.com. Typically, a group coupon site operates in multiple cities and features one merchant's discount per day per city in an e-mail to subscribers. Past offers include a $20 certificate for a specific restaurant or a $40 massage, both at half price, and $180 worth of pilates classes for $45, or 75 percent off.
Just visit the site and register your e-mail address to get daily notices. You'll usually have 24 hours to buy the discounted item from the site in the form of a gift certificate or coupon. Most of the deals are for locally owned service businesses like spas or restaurants, rather than products, and some expire fast or are limited to a single event. But national vendors like car rental company Zipcar, the National Basketball Association and Blockbuster video rental chain have signed up.
Groupon started in November 2008 serving just Chicago, where it is based, but now sends out deals for 140 cities in 18 countries to some 6 million subscribers. Cities range from New York and San Francisco to Wichita, Kan., and Omaha, Neb.
There are 50-some similar sites, and new ones appear daily, said Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of discount guide dealnews.com. And that's good for shoppers because it means participating businesses must offer better and better discounts.
"Eventually this will slow down, but right now it's like the Wild West," he said.