What to know before buying online 'coupon' deals

January 5, 2012 4:07:48 PM PST
Cleaning a dirty house is a pain, but perhaps not as much trouble as redeeming an internet coupon for a cleaning service.

Some Houston residents say after getting what they thought was a deal on a maid service, the whole thing turned into a giant mess.

You can find all sorts of deals by signing up with Internet-based coupon services, but before you buy, you should do your homework to make sure you don't lose your money, or have a hard time getting it back.

When a cleaning service group deal landed in Gary Gasperich's inbox, it seemed like a good deal.

He said, "It said they were bonded and insured and I clicked on it and purchased the coupon."

Gasperich got the deal through Living Social, an Internet group buying site. Things seemed OK until he tried to schedule the cleaning.

"All I would get is the answering machine, answering machine," Gasperich said. "I did that for quite a while."

Gasperich says after weeks of trying, he managed to schedule a cleaning, but the company never showed up, so he contacted Living Social to get his money back.

"They said it was beyond their terms and conditions," he recalled.

The website's refund policy gives people five days to change their minds, but it took weeks to even schedule the cleaning service and it seemed Gasperich would not see a refund, but today that changed.

Gasperich said, "They said well, since you scheduled the appointment and they did not show up we will refund your money."

Living Social's refund policy does state the site will refund your money if a company goes out of business or if consumers cannot use the voucher before the expiration date.

It turns out several people have had issues trying to redeem cleaning service web-based coupons in Houston. Leah Napoliello with the Houston Better Business Burearu said, "We have been seeing several problems with cleaning companies related to coupon sites. But it is not just cleaning companies, it is a problem all industries could have."

For that reason, Napoliello says consumers should call a company before buying any web-based discount.

She advised, "You should check to see if the company has been in business for at least a year, make sure the company is answering complaints.

The problem with that advice is that some of these deals require you to buy them in a matter of hours, so you don't always have a lot of time to figure out if a business has been around. But if you cannot get in touch with the company before buying a coupon, the best advice may be to skip it.

Living Social says they are researching the merchant in this case to see if any other consumers are having trouble. If so, everyone who bought one of these coupons may get a refund.