Online Group Buying Sites Soar in Popularity

A $50 haircut will set you back a mere $25 when purchased with the click of a mouse on a group buying website. Recommend the deal to two friends and get two $10 credits, used towards a deal at a local restaurant that gives $40 worth of food and drink for just $20 — a free meal.

Welcome to the world of group buying, Internet style, where the power of the Web can be utilized to offer surprisingly large discounts to a sizable number of people for things they actually want to buy. The industry has exploded in the past few years and continues to climb. It’s expected to grow 138 percent to $2.7 billion this year in the U.S. alone, according to Local Offer Network.

The best-known group buying site — Groupon — is expected to bring in between $3 billion and $4 billion this year alone, up from $760 million in worldwide revenue last year. However, of the 63,000 deals offered in the U.S. last year, Groupon accounted for fewer than half. Instead, smaller group sites are attracting customers with incredible discounts on everything from restaurants and spas to home products and insurance. Here’s where to go for some unique online deals:

LivingSocial. A group deal website that offers shoppers daily deal coupons from participating local merchants in their area. One killer feature that sets this site apart from the pack is the incentive that’s provided by LivingSocial to tempt its users to share the daily deal offerings with their friends. That is, if three people buy the deal using the link you’re provided upon signing up, then you receive the deal for free.

iMingle. The first car insurance provider to offer policyholders a group buying discount—potentially saving them hundreds of dollars—by enlisting friends to sign up using their site or iPhone app. Here’s how it works: when a customer is shopping for online auto insurance, they use a widget to let their friends know about the available discount. They have over a dozen choices for how they want to share their exclusive iMingle discount link, including email, instant messaging, blogging and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If a friend clicks the link, enrolls and agrees to the iMingle safety pledge, both customers can save 10 percent on their policies.

OrderBorder. This site caters towards Apple enthusiasts and owners of Apple products — featuring accessories, software and peripherals for iPhones, iPods, iPads, Macs and Macbooks. The site also employs the “Borderline Price” concept, or the absolute lowest price limit that the group can either reach with its growing size as users join the deal or with points accumulated by an individual after making purchases.

GreenDeals. This industry newcomer offers green-minded shoppers a daily coupon for goods and services from green businesses. In addition to daily green deals, the site offers green tips for everyday living, green coupons and other offers from Green Approved Businesses.

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