Beauty at a Price.
By Tatiana Boncompagni
Jasmine Chess had long wanted to try eyelash extensions, but the high cost had kept them off her beauty shopping list. Then Ms. Chess, 25, saw an offer to buy the service at a reduced rate ($225 instead of the usual $450) on Gilt City, an online portal that sells vouchers to fitness boutiques and spas (along with restaurants and other attractions).
“I wouldn’t have bought this on my own,” said Ms. Chess, an actress who had previously bought a juice cleanse, hair blowout and makeup on the site. “I did it because it was a deal.”
Thanks to the rise of social coupon Web sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, beauty consumers are able to bargain-hunt for goods and services that were once rarely, if ever, discounted. Recent sales include an oxygen facial at Bliss Spa in South Beach for $112 (30 percent off) on Gilt City and two 60-minute massages at Balanced Health in Boston for $95 (53 percent off) on LivingSocial....
“It used to be, ‘Fifty percent off a haircut, what’s the catch?’ ” said Andrew Unger, a founder of Lifebooker, which began offering deals in late 2007, though it took two years, he said, for consumers to become comfortable with the concept. Since then, “every month has been better than the last,” Mr. Unger said.
According to Yipit, an aggregator of online daily deals, the number of sites offering health- and beauty-related services has nearly quintupled in the last year, to 341, while sales of these services (including spa treatments, dental whitening and hair salon services) reached $78 million for January to March of this year and are on track to reach $312 million for 2011, representing 31 percent of total daily deal sales.
Shopping for beauty services online isn’t something Barbara Fisher, a sales associate for Coach in Manhattan, ever imagined doing, but since hearing about Lifebooker and a half-dozen deal sites through friends, she has bought vouchers for waxing and dental whitening trays and signed up for a free boot camp class...
But are beauty consumers really spending less or just buying more? Jessica Israel, a buyer of television commercial space for an advertising company in Westchester, recently purchased spray tanning, a haircut and a few massages for a discount online, all splurges she would not have tried otherwise....
Yvette Rose, the founder of the Kickstart Diet, said she had more than 5,000 views on her company Web site the day that her deal, 40 percent off a five-day food cleanse, was listed on Gilt City. “I’ve been in Town & Country and Vogue, and neither of them gave me the visibility that Gilt did,” said Ms. Rose, who sold 100 diet packages for $250 instead of the usual $425.
Oscar Blandi, a Madison Avenue hairstylist, offered a highlight and blowout package ($145, down from $275) at his salon on Gilt City last December as part of what he called a marketing strategy to help his junior stylists and colorists build their business. “This gets them in the door,” he said. “It’s up to me to cultivate the client.”
But merchants like Ms. Rose and Mr. Blandi are looking for more than just exposure. More crucial to them is that customers return, and pay full price....
But at what point does a business risk devaluing itself in the name of finding a few new customers? Dr. Steven Pearlman, a facial plastic surgeon who listed discounted prices for chemical peels, laser services, Botox and Juvederm on Gilt City last year, said he would not work with a deal site again for a very long time.
“I don’t want to undercut patients who have been seeing me for years and paying full price, the majority of whom do,” Dr. Pearlman said. “I don’t want to cheapen the brand.”....
Ms. Fisher, the Coach sales associate, said: “Now going to the salon is like getting on an airplane. You don’t know what someone in the seat next to you is paying.”
* * *
I have to admit there's just something golden and alluring about the phrase "__% off". Doesn't really matter what the numbers are- 10, 30, 50 - it calls to me.
I also have to admit to subscribing to more than my fair share of online coupon sites - Groupon, LivingSocial, Sharing Spree and Travelzoo. However, while I may receive many coupons and deals in my inbox they usually end up in my trash right away. Whether it's because I'm not willing to travel over an hour to get my haircut or (like this morning's Groupon) have my "alignment checked".
There have been many times though when the deal is just too good to pass up. A restaurant I haven't tried but has got rave reviews (I'm a yelper too, did I mention?), a 2 for one spa treatment (Mothers Day - check!), a 50% off coupon for a tea shop (perfect give-a-way gift for the tea party themed party I'm hosting)...no they aren't things I would have bought anyway.
In some ways I think of that as the point. Not looking for that "alignment check" deal because I need one anyway and just have been putting it off. It's a luxury. An opportunity to do something nice for myself (or someone else).
What do you think?
Have you bought anything from an online coupon site?
What was it? Was it for you or someone else?
Did you need it or was it a special treat?