- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - If Groupon isn’t as ubiquitous as, say, Facebook, it’s getting there. The website, which offers daily coupons to local restaurants, bars and other businesses, has 60 million members worldwide, about half of whom live in North America. Those controversial Super Bowl ads surely introduced it to some new customers, too.

Groupon’s business model is simple: It posts one deal a day, such as $10 for $20 worth of food at a local cafe, or 75 percent off a package of salsa lessons. Visitors have 24 hours to sign up for the deal.

I tested Groupon along with some copycat services. I came away with a handful of coupons to restaurants _ and a temptation to splurge on things I didn’t know I needed, like back massages. I learned that while the formula of these sites doesn’t change much, the mix of bargains you find does.

Groupon (http://www.groupon.com)

What I like: Groupon sometimes offers deals at national chains _ say, $25 for $50 worth of clothes at The Gap. The site also offers the best variety of deals, mixing things like restaurants, yoga classes and bowling. Many of the deals are good for a year, while others expire after 6 months or so. Each deal needs buy-in from a certain number of visitors to take effect, but because Groupon is well known, it usually does. Groupon has apps for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerrys.

What I don’t: Because Groupon has so many members, deals sometimes sell out. People can only buy one coupon for themselves, though they can e-mail others as gifts to include friends in an outing. Other sites, such as Gilt City, let each person purchase up to 5 coupons.

LivingSocial (http://www.livingsocial.com)

What I like: True to its name, many of LivingSocial’s deals were tailor-made for groups and couples. Buying a prix fixe dinner for two is easier than buying one coupon and giving the other away, as Groupon would have you do. Perhaps because the deals are so activity-focused, you’ll see some that you won’t on other sites, such as a six-week foreign language class. Its “Escapes” section sells hotel stays in locations as diverse as Cozumel, Mexico, and Cape Cod, Mass. The coupons last for six months to a year. In my testing, I also appreciated that LivingSocial’s stores and restaurant deals were specific to my neighborhood in Brooklyn, as opposed to more remote parts of New York City.

What I don’t: The only available phone app is for the iPhone. The service could use more restaurant deals. Because of this, I wouldn’t subscribe to LivingSocial alone.

Scoutmob (http://www.scoutmob.com)

What I like: Scoutmob takes a refreshing approach: the coupon is free. If you see an offer you like, just click a button to receive the coupon via text message or e-mail. You’ll only pay when you show up at a cafe, for example, and use it for half-off drinks. You can also claim deals using a free iPhone or Android app.

The result is a guilt-free experience. Often, I hesitate to pounce on deals from other sites because I worry I won’t get around to using the coupons in time, especially if they require schlepping to an out-of-the-way neighborhood. And frankly, buying a coupon for every charming restaurant I see could be an expensive habit.

But with Scoutmob, I can rack up as many coupons as I want and know that I haven’t lost anything if I forget to use them.

What I don’t: For now, it’s only available in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta, though it will soon launch in nine more cities. The deals only last one day, and they aren’t as varied as Groupon’s and LivingSocial‘s. With the exception of a day spa, they’ve all been for restaurants and bars. The deals also expire after about three months, compared to six months to a year for most Groupon offers.

DailyCandy Deals (http://deals.dailycandy.com)

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