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Posted at 3:31 PM ET, 11/30/2010

Google's buying Groupon? But Groupon is evil! Here's why

By Alexandra Petri


Groupon is worth $6 billion?

That sounds inaccurate. Nothing that e-mails me every day suggesting we go buy furniture together could be worth $6 billion, or my friend Cliff wouldn't still be jobless and living in his parents' garage.

Seriously, how can this be? If this is how you become worth that kind of money, I am definitely going to send a lot more pun-filled e-mails to people I vaguely know suggesting we go places and buy things in bulk. "Do you like soap?" I will say. "If so, you will love MORE soap! Maybe if enough of us show up demanding soap, the CVS will be frightened and only force half of us to pay!" I took economics once, so I understand that this is basically how Groupon works.

I hate receiving e-mails from Groupon. I'm sure it's nice if you have large groups of friends that you get together to have E-mail Receiving parties with, but if you don't, it's an unpleasant reminder that thousands of people are enjoying the Spy Museum without you. Afterwards, it pretends to console you. "Hey, want to get a lot of ice cream by yourself?" it says. "I can enable that!"

Recently, I purchased a Living Social deal for four movie tickets for the price of one. That's these Deal Groups in a nutshell. When you have friends, you don't purchase a subscription to Weekly Cinema because you can predict months in advance that you will be seeing Unstoppable and For Colored Girls by yourself as a double feature.

And it's not just that. Most Groupon deals are things that no one in his or her right mind would want to do in the first place, with a few occasional exceptions. But because you see the little animated timer, you become terrified. It's mortality applied to shopping. Not only are supplies running out, but so is time! And in case that wasn't enough, there's peer pressure applied to the shopping habits of lonely people at computers. "5,000 people have already bought tickets to see the creepy wax Rihanna," it tells you. "One of them might be single and looking! Maybe you will bump into each other at the desk while asking for help retrieving your Groupons -- but that's unlikely, because the process of retrieving Groupons is so intuitive."

Here are a few recent Groupon deals and why I think they're problematic:

  • $25 for $50 worth of Handcrafted Pottery. How much is $50 worth of Handcrafted Pottery? I have a close friend who handcrafts pottery all the time, but that seems like the amount of money you would pay someone not to give you handcrafted pottery for whatever the occasion was. There is no feeling on earth like opening a package and discovering that, although the package had the approximate weight and heft of a Kinect, what you have is an earthenware bowl glazed to look like deer have dashed across it and left tiny footprints. "Look, it's an earthenware bowl!" You've heard someone say this. Have you ever heard it followed by the sentence, "This is just what I wanted!" No. You have not. But thanks to Groupon, this holiday season everyone will be getting earthenware bowls from their bitter, lonely friends who subscribed to the deal because the clock was running out. I assume hand-crafted pottery generally sells like hotcakes, in the sense that I am fairly confident no one has purchased a hotcake since about 1890. But not with Groupon! "There is only one day left to get to all this pottery!" the little sand-ticker says. "Otherwise, the pottery will leave!" Suddenly you begin to worry. What if, say, there is a nuclear holocaust tomorrow, the earth returns to a pre-technological state, and all your Tupperware melts? Then you'll really wish you had bought that Handcrafted Pottery! As you wander the wreckage of the ruined earth, you will kick yourself repeatedly.
  • $25 for a Chocolate Walking Tour from D.C. Metro Chocolate Tours ($48 Value)
    I enjoy walking around and eating chocolate as much as the next guy, unless the next guy is the kind of individual who is willing to shell out $48 for this privilege. Who are these 1,195 people? To me, Chocolate Walking Tours are the sort of thing that should not happen. You want a chocolate walking tour, find your own Golden Ticket. Don't come crying to Groupon to guilt me (or gelt me! Zing!) into buying $25 worth of Walking Around With Chocolate.
  • $9 ticket to "Madame Tussauds Interactive Wax Attraction."
    ("Up to $20 Value!" Groupon notes.) Are you noticing a trend? Are any of these things that you would seek out if there weren't a tiny animated hourglass indicating that supplies were about to run out? In general, I would gladly pay $9 not to be surrounded by creepy, wax people. But make it a Groupon, and -- boom! I hope my biological clock is nothing like this, or I will have a lot of horrifying wax children.
  • D.C. Challenge National Scavenger Hunt Thing
    This one, from April, was the worst. "Just $25 to participate in the ultimate urban scavenger race!" it says. Can I opt out? "Scavenger hunts unite the educational experience of getting to know your city with the raw thrills of scouring the urban landscape for objects that will ensure your continued survival," Groupons proclaims. No, they don't. Scavenger hunts unite the educational experience of realizing that you can't stand being around Shira and Annie for more than three hours at a time because they are under the influence and want to go eat something instead of helping you find Boston's only spork, with the raw thrills of trying to talk Annie down from an elevated place she has climbed before the cops arrive. At least, that is my experience of scavenger hunts. If you told me that I had to pay $25 for this, I would laugh in your face. Later I would retell the experience and laugh in your absence.

And Groupon adds insult to inexpensive group-based deals on things I do not want.

Based on the things it is offering, I sense that Groupon thinks I am hairy, lonesome, and really like wax figures of celebrities or ice figures carved to look like -- I don't know, something. My home needs cleaning. My dog needs bathing. My $5 would be happier if it left me to go be with the people who will let me Pick My Own Tulips at EcoTulips. I need to visit the Newseum, Spy Museum, and Madame Tussaud's for a third time. I need adventure, which is why they want me to spend $61 to learn how to fly a plane. But if I ever play golf, they are worried that I might get lost on the course and, say, starve to death in a sand bunker, so they insist that I take a GPS-equipped golf cart. Also, I apparently like chicken.

What if they're right? I thought this was inaccurate, but now I'm terrified. What if Groupon's right about me? Maybe $30 worth of lobster will fill the void. There's still time! It's like A Christmas Carol, and Groupon is Marley.

Google, your motto is "Don't be evil." If you want it to stay that way, I have some advice: Don't buy Groupon.

By Alexandra Petri  | November 30, 2010; 3:31 PM ET
Categories:  Only on the Internet, Petri, Worst Things Ever  | Tags:  Google, Groupon, kids these days  
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Investors agree. GOOG lost more than the market cap of this deal today solely on the rumor of an acquisition, and it had its fifth worst day of the last 12 months.

Posted by: dallastext | November 30, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Reading your columns is such an education. Until today, I thought “Groupon” was that mustard that people with British accents like.

But alas, the chocolate tour, waxy tour, and scavenger hunt you mentioned are all sold out. The only thing that was still available was the handcrafted pottery. But after your previous column, I’m too embarrassed to enter my email address so I can buy it.

And at your suggestion, I melted all my Tupperware trying to make hotcakes. What do I do now?

Posted by: divtune | November 30, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Bravo Alexandra! I laughed my butt off reading this. You nailed it in style.

Posted by: markczar1 | November 30, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

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