x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Group-buying consumers yearn for a produce section

On the Money Keeping up with the day-to-day issues of consumers is one thing the deal websites could do to stand out from the crowd.

There's been a raft of group-buying websites launched in the UAE over the past year or so, all of them offering some pretty decent reductions on a range of goods and services. From hotel deals to half-price spa offers to two-for-the-price-of-one packages, there are deals out there that appeal to practically everyone.

With the cost of living on the rise around the world, not to mention in the UAE, consumers are embracing the concept by the millions. They may have been too proud to take advantage of the deals a couple of years ago, but after some serious belt-tightening thanks to the financial crisis, they don't bat an eyelid about it these days. And why should they? Everybody wants to save money and there's no shame in that.

I'm willing to bet that many people became very tired very fast of sacrificing those little luxuries in life during the height of the credit crunch - and way beyond, for that matter.

Those so-called sacrifices may not have seemed much at the time, but they did make a difference to our back pockets while we focused on the necessities of life: paying bills, the school fees and keeping up with the mortgage, car and credit-card payments, just to name a few. Forgoing things such as our favourite imported chocolate, daily fix of expensive coffee, the monthly spa treatment or massage, or a luxury night or two in a five-star hotel took their toll on many. After all, we all need our treats, even if it is every now and again.

And, thanks to the wealth of group-buying websites on the market, we are fast returning to the things that we'd sacrificed for what seemed like an age, but at more affordable prices.

In the UAE, we've got Groupon and GoNabit, as well iVoucherDubai.com, which offers an iPhone app that taps users into discounts for entertainment and restaurant deals, and realdealme.com, which prints offers on the back of the receipts you get at supermarkets.

Consumers may have discovered a new-found strength by buying in numbers, which is what these websites base their models on, but I wonder if there is strength in numbers when it comes to the websites themselves. Too much of a good thing could see some of them fall by the wayside as more and more jump on the bandwagon to cash in on the popularity of online group buying.

Have consumers had their fill of group buying or are they hoping for something more?

Sure, the group-buying websites hit on a winner towards the end of the financial crisis by offering consumers those little luxuries in life that they'd come to miss. But are they hitting the mark now? Are they in tune with what we want discounts on?

Keeping up with the day-to-day issues of consumers is one thing the deal websites could do to stand out from the crowd.

One obvious issue is the spiralling cost of food. It's all very well for the websites to cut a deal with a spa or a hotel or a restaurant that allows people to snag a half-price facial, a free night's stay or a meal voucher, but that won't put food on tables.

One of the biggest personal finance conversation starters in this country is inflation and the subsequent rising cost of food. There has been some relief thanks to the UAE Government's call to retailers to lower the cost of basic foods in the lead up to Ramadan, as well as launching a campaign for them to set the prices of 400 basic foods for the next six months.

I reckon the group-buying websites should be in on this, too. How? Here's my idea. Rather than doing the expected and offering cut-price treats that none of us need every day of our lives (OK, some of us still do), why not cut some worthwhile deals with the country's supermarket chains, such as LuLu, Spinneys, Carrefour and the Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society?

This could lead to some interesting discounts on the front line of one of today's most popular consumer hangouts: the supermarket (if you do your grocery shopping on a Friday afternoon, you'll know what I'm talking about).

Group-buying websites could offer consumers discount vouchers via the supermarkets. Consumers, could then use their strength in numbers to bid for, say, a Dh350 LuLu (just to name one) voucher for just Dh300, giving them a saving of Dh50 at the checkout.

It's just an idea, but perhaps one that's worth buying into.