Saturday, January 08, 2011

Countdown to Savings

My father used to put it best: he would go broke if my mom saved him any more money. If there was a deal, she was on it. Be it cents or dollars, it was worth buying if you could take something off the purchase price. Never mind that you didn't need the coat/canned pumpkin/Tupperware; it could sit in the closet until it got cold/Thanksgiving/we ordered too much Chinese food. Sooner or later (so the logic went) you would need it, so why pay bust out retail when you could get it now for less?

Me, I have a much less forward looking outlook. When something breaks, I replace it. And at that exact moment in space/time, if I can find it for less, then so be it. If not, unless it's something I desperately need...a new computer, batteries for my son's hearing aids, strawberry Twizzlers... I'll make a mental note and keep my eyes open, seeking to find it at a reduced tariff within a reasonable time. At all costs (no pun intended), the goal is to avoid committing that most grievous of sins: paying full price.

Occasionally the stars do align, and I find that my need corresponds with a price reduction on that exact item. I'm on dinner duty, and ribs are featured as the Manager's Special. We're out of paper in the office, and that's the product-of-the-week at Staples. Or the grease stain from that errant piece of pepperoni pizza will not come out of my khaki pants, and Kohl's happens to have them on sale... though, to be fair, Kohl's always has pants on sale. (A Zen Koan: if all is always on sale, is the sale not a sale?)

So imagine my delight when our youngest son mentioned that he needed new winter boots, that the type he wanted was available at Dick's Sporting Goods, that we went by said store enroute for a visit to family AND that morning an email informed me that I could obtain a 50% off voucher at same. I don't know if I believe in Karma, but if ever there was a sign that the New Year would be a good one, this was it.

But it's never that easy. Seems I was ensnared in the latest craze, group savings, demonstrated perhaps best of all by the Groupon culture. For those of you as ignorant as I, the concept is that if you band together with other like minded bargain hunters, you can get a merchant to offer deep discounts. The catch is that enough people have to sign up to achieve critical mass. Once the target has been hit, all those who sign up are charged and get the deal. The idea is to use the power of numbers, coupled with a guarantee to buy, to get some serious savings.

The particular variant I was lassoed by, called "Overwhelming Offers," required me first to click a box. Easy enough. However, all that did was get me in the door, and give me a small discount at a different store. I was then presented with a counter. When enough other like-minded souls clicked, in this case 50,000, the deal would become active. But there was a catch: only the first 100 to click at that point would get the deal. I watched it climb in fits and starts, multitasking a bit onto other things as opposed to watching the pot boil.

An hour or later I clicked back as it neared the goal. Suddenly the screen flashed. I was presented with a new counter, this one a clock counting down to when the deal would be active. I hovered over my mouse ready to spring, when I noted a line labeled "advantage." Seems frequent users of the site are inched forward a few seconds, giving them a leg up on the masses. And sure enough, before my button ever turned green, 100 other hardcore savers clicked in, and I was left out in the cold.

Alas, it was not to be. But as it turns out, we swung by the store and the boots were on sale anyway, with no other discounts permitted. So phooey on the coupon crowd. You? You can Groupon and Woot and DealCatcher to your heart's content. As for me, I'll just wander in the retail wilderness as usual, noting that occasionally dollars do grow, or more precisely, fall off trees.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to buy, as long as he doesn't have to shop. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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