Groupon’s New ‘Freebies’ Section Is Missing Free Stuff

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Photo-Illustration by Alexander Ho for TIME; Getty Images

“Groupon is giving away stuff for free now,” a story in the Chicago Tribune begins. Well, no. There’s nothing free, or particularly special, to be had at the new “Freebies” section launched at the daily deal giant’s site.

This week, Groupon introduced a new “Freebies” section to its website. What kind of stuff can consumers find in this section for free? Let’s take a look.

One of the lead items in the Freebies section on Thursday was a 20% off sitewide anniversary sale for Moosejaw, the outdoor apparel specialist. First off, this is just a discount like a million other discounts out there; nothing’s being given away free. Secondly, it’s not a particularly amazing discount: On big online shopping days on or around Cyber Monday, consumers have come to expect markdowns of 40% or more. Thirdly, there’s no need to go through Groupon to secure 20% off a Moosejaw purchase. Anyone who stumbled upon the site would also be presented with the same exact sitewide 20% discount.

Other offers listed in Groupon’s “Freebies” section include Walmart’s Pre-Black Friday Sale, a 20% off sale of select merchandise from Puma, and discounts up to 40% off select clearance items at Nordstrom, with free shipping included. There are plenty of ho-hum “Top Coupons” that will leave experienced shoppers seriously underwhelmed, like 15% off regularly priced items at Toys R Us and $5 off purchases over $75 at Shoplet.com. In all instances, shoppers must pay actual money to get their hands on any merchandise, which is the opposite of something being free.

(MORE: The Big Lie About Shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday)

After clicking on “Freebies,” the shopper sees a small headline clarifying what’s truly available for free in this section: “Free coupons.” You know, as opposed to all those coupons and promotional codes that shoppers eagerly pay top dollar for.

As of Thursday, Groupon was listing “Free coupons to 5,545 stores.” Now, for the Groupon business model, the concept of giving away coupons is new. Normally, a subscriber does pay something—say $10 for $20 worth of food at a local restaurant—for what amounts to a discount, or Groupon coupon. But the vast majority of coupons encountered by consumers today require no such upfront purchase.

So Groupon isn’t giving away any “stuff” for free. Instead, the company is expanding into the already-crowded realm of sites such as RetailMeNot and BradsDeals, which list coupons, promotional codes, and links to sales and generate commissions when a purchase is made after a click-through. Groupon lists a handful of “exclusive” coupons under its Freebies section, but for the most part, the discounts aren’t remarkable. Similar deals are readily available elsewhere on the web.

It’s understandable why Groupon is pushing into the space focused on coupon codes and links. The daily deal pioneer has gone on record explaining of the necessity to go far beyond daily deals in its quest for profitability, as consumers and local businesses alike have slowly lost interest in daily deals. Groupon wants to transform itself into a broad e-commerce marketplace, not simply a place for impulsive shoppers to snatch up short-lived deals to restaurants and spas they’ve never heard of.

(MORE: Why Daily Deal Sites Are Giving Up on Daily Deals)

What’s not clear is why consumers would choose to frequent Groupon’s new Freebies section over any of the other coupon code aggregators out there. Overall, shoppers shouldn’t go to Groupon’s Freebies section expecting to find anything particularly special. And certainly, don’t go there hoping to get anything without paying for it.

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TravisBarritt
TravisBarritt

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