I’ve been a Groupon customer for years, through ups and downs.

Groupon started with a big idea: an alternative for local businesses who otherwise might push coupons in the (nearly dead) local newspaper, in desperate hope customers appear. But it turns out that it’s hard to find enough small businesses willing to cut their prices so severely, and the service nearly collapsed.

Groupon is still afloat after some business adjustment, and offers compelling deals on a range of products and services in your town, or cities you might visit. I’ve used it a lot for things like dining out, massage, and acupuncture, etc.

Fat stacks of saving

To me, the hidden beauty of Groupon is that it is constantly offers coupons (ironic?) on top of the upfront savings it pioneered. This may not be obvious to regular users, but it’s key. It’s a use case obsessive savers cherish: “stacking” savings, or layering one or more savings opportunity on top of a base deal. In a typical offering, Groupon will offer 20, 30 or even 50% off the standard cost of a service for your cash in advance, but also offers 10 to 20% coupon on top of that at time of purchase. That can be some serious savings.

The issue, of course, is finding and applying the relevant coupon. For that you have two options. One is to subscribe to Groupon’s daily emails. I will warn you that Groupon is a prodigious (obsessive?) emailer – your inbox can get overloaded quickly. But it can pay to pay attention.

The other option is to use a service like Honey to automatically apply coupons in the Groupon site. That’s more efficient, and I’d recommend it in any case. But it runs the risk of missing certain coupons, particularly brand new ones. Groupon runs new deals several times a week, and Honey sometimes struggles to keep up with that flow. But it’s a rare that Honey doesn’t provide some savings on top of the upfront Groupon bargain.

Lately Groupon has introduced Groupon Select, which offers even better deals for subscribers. It’s ~$5/mo and promises 10-25% additional savings on several deal categories. I haven’t tried it myself, mostly because I use Groupon occasionally. But if you’re a regular Groupon-er, it might make sense.

Also note that Groupon has extensive travel offerings, mostly hotels and vacation packages.

The dead zone

One risk to note: Groupon is mainly used by services and businesses that are struggling to attract customers; some are close to the end. I’ve bought Groupons I couldn’t use when the businesses that offered them closed before I could redeem. Groupon stands behind their sales, however, and in that rare case, you’ll be able to trade in your purchase for another Groupon of equal value.