Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review the facts

You can't buy trust. When you are an online store, establishing trust with your viewers is such an important factor. It can make or break a sale. Fulfilling that trust will encourage future purchases. Not fulfilling that trust? Well...

I am generally wary of group deal websites. You know the ones? They encourage impulse spending on everything from teeth whitening to body-shaping sleepwear. Friends have had success with them though, buying discounted movie tickets or meal vouchers. Things they would ordinarily buy and were able to buy cheaper. Being on a budget and being frugally minded I have given them a go. I purchased a discounted gift certificate from Groupon, to use on an online clothing store, and was been pleased with my purchase. So when they approached me about reviewing an item of my choice I thought it would be a simple matter.

Like most parents and bloggers, I take many photos. Photos that end up in folders on my laptop and at least theoretically, get backed up and printed periodically. Except that my external hard drive has been experiencing technical difficulties, and I haven't had any photos printed since December. (For which I would like to blame being pregnant and having a newborn.) So I signed up to Groupon and checked my emails for something I might like to spend my proffered $50 voucher on. After receiving three emails a day for several weeks, I finally decided upon a 32GB USB Key. Touted to be valued at $120 but selling for $34 plus $5 postage it sounded like a great deal, I needed a USB, I gave it no further thought. I made my purchase with the code they supplied me, the transaction was simple and the USB key arrived a few weeks later in a small padded envelope all the way from China. 

So far the key has done it's job and I have backed up my photographs. But the problem was, once I sat down to write this review I had a few questions. For instance, who was the company that made the USB key? It is not once mentioned on the listing. Where did the $120 retail "value" come from? It seemed excessive. I looked for other keys online of a similar value and found none. Instead I immediately found an almost identical USB key on Ebay, with a packing box, selling for $21.45, with free postage from China. $17.55 cheaper than my apparent "deal." This made me feel uneasy. It made me question the value of my deal. I queried the online marketing contact at Groupon, who passed on my questions to customer care and then got back to me with the following.
"I received an answer from customer care in Australia, he says that as the USB key is a novelty item that cannot be found readily online, the merchant valued the item at $120. It is up to the merchant to choose the RRP, and unfortunately they cannot be disclosed for privacy reasons. Although 120$ seems like a lot of money for a USB key, after having a look today and finding USB keys of a similar value I think it is a reasonable valuation by the merchant.  
I realise the Ebay key is priced at a much lower value, and this tends to be the case with items from China, however due to the originality of our item this is something we are unable to compete with.  
We are still looking for honest reviews and this is a subject which you are welcome to bring up."

Ok, well I am happy to write an honest review and bring this subject up. But a novelty item that is not readily available online? I would encourage you to google 'USB key' and see what you find. Do an image search if you will, it's a quicker way to give you an overview. Of the numerous USB keys that returned in the search the first one I clicked on brought me to this site, 'Made in,' with a listing for what appears to be the exact same item. And the price? US $2.20 a piece. 

What privacy reasons could a company have for with holding their name? I couldn't find any other products on the Groupon site where the company withheld their identity.

Stating that the Ebay key is lower in price because it comes from China seems an ineffectual argument, given the USB key I purchased through Groupon also came straight from China, as attested by the customs stickers on the envelope I received

I have raised my concerns in another email to the online marketing team, asked for links to USB keys they found of similar $120 value, and noted that the Groupon purchased USB key also came from China. I am awaiting their response. *

The thing is, they have lost my trust. The website sells itself on providing deals on items and experiences. That by signing up you will save money. Buyer beware inflated recommended retail pricing and supposed savings. You may actually be paying more for an item than you would be were you to buy it from a local store. And waiting five weeks for the privilege. I would encourage you to shop around. Some "deals" may in fact be deals, while others may not. Make them earn your trust.


* Edited to add: This is the reply I received to my email.

"Here is an example of a similarly priced USB key:

Although they certainly are more high-end prices, I do think a USB key for Groupon does have a policy of always stating it as ‘up to’ such a value, which must be taken into consideration. Buying with Groupon also has a reliable return policy and customer service network, so I think in this regard it can be considered a good deal."

The USB key in the example is a branded product with a two year limited warranty. The Groupon USB is a no name product with a one month manufacturers warranty. The next sentence is difficult to understand. The emails seem to originate from Germany, which may be the reason. The use of 'up to' value is not consistent throughout the listing. I'm not sure about the reliable return policy, as I can find nothing about returns on the website, and the listing states 'No refund for change of mind.'
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