OnSale.com: Is this the dark side of group buying discounts?

imageWith the growth of online services that offer discounted products and services based on group purchases, I’ve become a rabid customer of companies like Groupon and LivingSocial.  In my opinion, they are the best of the bunch.  On a couple of occasions I’ve strayed to other vendors, usually because they have a deal with a local business that I want to support.  Unfortunately, I’m experiencing some of the customer service challenges that are endemic to many a small but fast-growing business.  In this case, I’m stuck between OnSale.com and a nice little restaurant called Tokyo Bay Sushi Bar & Grill.

I was introduced to OnSale through a twitter acquaintance (who promised me a Friends & Family Deal that never materialized – should have been a sign), and within a month had taken them up on an offer @ Tokyo Bay.  It’s a convenient restaurant with good Asian dishes.  The deal went smoothly, and I’ve kept OnSale on my radar ever since.image  A few weeks ago, they ran a deal for a $10 Subway gift card ($6.99) and another $30 deal with Tokyo Bay ($15).  I snatched them both up.

Yesterday, I went to Tokyo Bay to redeem the coupon, looking forward to edemame and a Koby Beef roll while reading the novel Alone (I’m a multitasker, what can I say?).  It was an early lunch, and I was their only customer.  But when I presented the coupon prior to sitting down, the “manager” informed me that they don’t have any current deals with OnSale, and therefore wouldn’t honor the coupon.  I found this odd, and assumed that there was just some miscommunication, so I went ahead and had lunch.  During this time, I sent an email on OnSale customer service, complete with a copy of the coupon, asking them to look into the situation.  I finished my lunch with no response, paid the bill and left.

Later that afternoon, I called OnSale customer service and explained the situation.  This is when I started to get pissed off.  First, the rep told me that they think they have a deal with Tokyo Bay, but needed to find the Account Manager in order to confirm.  A warning bell went off in my head: why would they not have a screen they can pull up that tells them exactly what their inventory is?  Well, my warning bell was validated when the rep came back online to tell me that they needed to do further investigation, as he didn’t get a firm answer.  But he assured me that they do have a deal with Tokyo Bay, and that perhaps they weren’t aware of it (???)  Taking my phone and email contact information, he promised to get back to me.  The day ended with no answer, prompting me to email OnSale again.  I made it clear that I wasn’t happy, and would be very communicative about my situation if I didn’t get resolution or contact soon.

Almost 24hrs pass from my original email, and still nothing from OnSale.  So I call them again.  Another rep takes me through the same questioning, assures me that he thinks they have a deal with Tokyo Bay.

I ask, “how hard is it for someone to know whether or not you have a business’ permission to offer their goods or services for discount?”  He ignores my question, stating that they are talking with Tokyo Bay to resolve the matter.  So I press on.

“So are you telling me that it’s unclear whether the restaurant is aware you are selling this deal?”

“I don’t know sir.”

“How much effort does it take to confirm with the restaurant that the deal is valid, and that they should contact any customers that were turned away.”

“Sir, I’m here by myself and don’t have any answers.  If I can get your contact information, someone should be able to get back to you on Monday.”

“Grrr”.

I gave him my contact information, expressed my frustration very succinctly, and hung up.  I then called Tokyo Bay.  The waitress who served me yesterday answered, but explained that the owner wasn’t in yet.  Could I call back later. I explained that at this point I’m not sure where the blames lies, but am sure it doesn’t rest with me.  And, I’m tired of being the only person calling – no one has contacted me on their own.  “Um, ok” was the response, then the line went dead.

What can I say? I mean, it was bound to happen, that the success of companies like Groupon and LivingSocial would breed a bunch of copycats.  And while Tokyo Bay may not be completely blameless, my transaction was with OnSale, and they haven’t been doing a good job of honoring the customer-vendor relationship they obligated themselves to when they took my money.  Granted, we’re not talking a lot here.  It’s just the fact that I don’t like being taken advantage of, period.  Whether it is subpar customer service or dishonesty I don’t know.  I just know I’ve learned my lesson.