On February 4th Groupon ran an offer for "$10 for $20 Worth of Toys and Games, Books and More at Barnes & Noble". As an avid reader I was interested in what could be a great deal on some new books. I checked the terms and conditions and saw that the Groupon could also be used for Nook purchases, which was the clincher for me. I purchased the Groupon and registered it with my Nook.
One of the terms of the B&N Groupon is that it expires on April 10th. If you did not spend the full amount of the Groupon by April 10, the remaining balance would be reduced by $10, or to $0 if less than $10 was remaining. I was a little concerned about this as I already had a $50 gift card registered with my Nook, and there is no way to re-order gift cards on the B&N website. Unless I spent $70 on books in the next two months, I wasn't going to get to take advantage of the deal.
On February 18th my wife and I were on a date and we had some time to kill after dinner before we went to a comedy club. We stopped at the local B&N and had coffee and browsed books. I found a paperback copy of "Good Omens" by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman for $7.99. This book isn't available on the Nook and it was on my to-read list, so I decided to use my Groupon for it. When I presented the Groupon to the cashier, he gave me a funny look and asked if I wouldn't like to get something more. He explained that any unspent amount from the $20 Groupon would be lost. This was news to me, as my understanding of the terms was that it worked just like a gift card. He went on to say that all of the Groupons used the same number, so there was no way to tell them apart. We were pressed for time to get to our show, so I returned the book to the shelf and we left without purchasing anything.
The next day, I got to thinking about what the cashier said. It made no sense that all of the Groupons shared the same number. If they did, either the first customer to use it would use it for everyone, or I could go into the store and use my Groupon over and over again. I double checked the terms and conditions. Based on the wording regarding the April 10th expiration, I was certain that the Groupon would retain the outstanding balance. I went to a different Barnes and Noble location and picked out the same book, along with "Anansi Boys" (also by Neil Gaiman). Each book was priced at $7.99. I again approached the cashier with my Groupon. The cashier looked at the Groupon and said that I had to spend a minimum of $20 before I could use it. I held my ground this time. I said that there was no minimum purchase, and the remaining balance would be retained. She shrugged and we entered the number and pin. Sure enough, the receipt showed that the Groupon had a remaining balance of $2.90. I also confirmed the remaining balance on the B&N site.
I thought about this situation some more, and it started to seem more suspect. I had visited two different Barnes and Noble locations and spoken to two different cashiers. In both cases, the cashier instructed me to spend over the $20 Groupon amount (one in order to avoid forfeited value, the other as a minimum purchase). Are the B&N stores intentionally misinforming their cashiers in order to encourage customers to spend more than the Groupon amount? If you took advantage of the B&N Groupon, did you receive similar information from a cashier?
I did a little research to see if anyone else was getting the same feedback when using the B&N Groupon. This thread on one of the B&N blogs details how some Groupon users were able to purchase multiple Groupons and use them in shady ways.
In addition, I sent a support request to both Groupon and Barnes and Noble to let them know about my experience. I'm not looking for anything in return, just to inform the businesses about the confusion surrounding this deal. I received two replies from Groupon within a few hours of submitting my e-mail (wow, fast feedback!). However, the two responses conflict.
Two messages sent at exactly the same time with directly conflicting information. Looks like the cashiers at B&N aren't the only ones confused about how this offer works.