Groupon is testing out a VIP membership on a select group of Groupon enthusiasts for $30 a year. Would you pay for first dibs on deals and reservations, access to sold-out and expired deals, and store credit for unused Groupons any time? It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Flash sale websites like Ideeli already offer shoppers first dibs on designer clothes that would otherwise fly off the shelves before most members even had a chance to open the email. For those of us who are still sitting in the cheap seats, VIP services can mean less savings.
The worst case-scenario was easily Borders’ Overwhelming Offers, which launched in 2009. The addition to the Borders Rewards Perks program lured shoppers in with incredible half-price gift cards to Macy’s and major airlines. It was a great idea. Unfortunately, the offers were in such limited quantities that they sold out in seconds. I once watched my smartphone on the treadmill for a full half hour ahead of the start time and still couldn’t get the plane tickets I wanted.
But this isn’t always the case. Upscale deals, for example, don’t appeal to everyone. A $1,400 coat listed for $700 on Ideeli is still out of reach for someone who is used to spending no more than a hundred bucks or so on outerwear. (For the same reason I have yet to buy anything from the luxury travel site Jetsetter, even though I usually open the email.)
Groupon already puts caps on its Goods section, which is good for vendors because they know in advance how many orders they will potentially have to fill. For consumers, this is usually better than placing an order and finding out later that the item is out of stock.
Really, the ability to get a credit for an unused service would make the membership worth the price. In September 2011 the New York Times reported on a wave of aftermarket sites like Lifesta.com where users could go to unload their unused deals. A Group0n representative said that the vouchers couldn’t be guaranteed to be authentic.
It is estimated that 20 percent of Groupons go unused, which benefits the business owners who are able to collect the money without having to provide the service, but it leaves customers holding the bag. Groupon has also had to contend with competitors like Living Social and Google Offers, which may offer merchants a greater cut of the profits and give customers a chance to do some comparison shopping before they buy.
The other attractive option of the VIP service is access to Groupon’s vault of expired deals. Some people only look at the deals when they’re ready to go somewhere, while other times the deals reach the right person at the wrong time. Groupon might grab a lot of latecomers this way.
A Groupon representative told Business Insider that for now, the VIP service is only being rolled out to a select number of users in a handful of markets. A reader had sent the publication a screenshot of the invitation:
Image by Bertold Werkmann via Shutterstock.
UPDATE: Earlier today I had emailed Groupon’s communications director asking for a few details about the membership. She told me that the early access feature was added at the request of the users and that it usually applies to live events, which tend to sell out, and places like high-end restaurants that have limited seating. While there won’t be any way to reserve a table, room, or seat directly from Groupon’s site, those who have VIP access will have first crack at the vendors before everyone else rushes in to cash in their vouchers.