Sometimes, getting the best deal isn't the best idea


Gary Dop is a poet and an English professor at North Central University in Minneapolis.

Over the past year, my wife and I have succumbed to the wiles of Groupon, LivingSocial and other daily deals. Now Facebook is joining the party. We've clicked and bought everything from massages and magazines to museum and restaurant coupons. In the process, we've learned a great deal about daily deals.

Rule One: Read the fine print.

When I ordered a coupon for Sweet Taste of Italy — I love their bread — and showed up later that evening, the 15-year-old at the counter told me the deal wasn't valid till the next week. I congratulated her on the brilliant marketing move; she grinned. Then she asked if I wanted a Cannoli with my full-priced order. I did.

Last fall, when I purchased a LivingSocial subscription to the Boston Review, I somehow switched my e-location to Massachusetts. I almost bought a deal for fresh lobster at a restaurant overlooking the harbor, which I assumed meant Duluth. Now I read the fine print, and I know I can't afford to drive to Boston for this morning's marketing exclusive: yoga and beer tasting.

Rule Two: Be ready for collateral damage.

Recently, my wife tried to order a massage for herself and her friend. She called me at work, worried because Groupon would only let her order once. She asked me to buy the other massage. I clicked the deal, and her friend, Sarah, received the following email: "Dear Sarah Smith, Gary Dop has bought you a massage."

Her husband emailed me the next morning asking why I was giving his wife a massage. Fortunately, he had a sense of humor.

Rule Three: Keep an eye on the expiration date.

For my wife's birthday last summer, she asked me to jump on the latest laser hair-removal deal. I was skeptical, but she insisted that the whole thing was safe because the clinic was in a nice suburb. We read the fine print: six treatments on one zone of the body. I forked over the $200, and she chose her zone, both of us feeling suddenly vulnerable.

Six months later, she told me she was having second thoughts because the Internet said each zap of the laser felt like the snap of a rubber band. We discussed switching to another zone where the rubber band wouldn't hurt so much. I said, "You could have the hair on your kneecap removed." She didn't laugh. But the expiration date was bearing down on us, so she made the appointment.

It dawned on me that daily deals sometimes function like a mail-in rebate, only worse. With daily deals, you're often paying for a coupon, not the product, and companies hope you never use the coupon, essentially giving them your money for nothing. It's ingenious marketing.

Now we are wiser. We've canceled most of our daily deal subscriptions. But if you see a two-for-one on couples' therapy, would you please send me a link?