"Zookeeper challenge, £179." "Tickets to Dinosaurs Unleashed, £17." "One dozen cupcakes, £6.50..." They come to your inbox in groups of three. At first, you can't quite be sure what they are. All your device tells you is that you have a new email. How quickly you will become used to the disappointment of finding out that you've received another message from one of those discount websites you signed up to.
The business model is simple. The websites – Groupon began operating in 2008 and was quickly followed by Groupola, Crowdity, Incahoot and the suspiciously named KGB Deals to name a few – promise businesses a minimum number of customers and secure the deal. Then they promote said deal by way of those infuriating mass mailouts. If enough people buy into the offer, the vouchers/promotion codes are sent out and the discounts are secured. Don't hit the minimum requirement, the deal is off.
Look at these money-wasting alerts for long enough, and they start to assert a strange, persuasive power over you: as if what you need more than anything else in the world right now is to rent a supercar for £190. "At a discount of 66 per cent!"
So you click on "View it!". And you notice the clock ticking down on the time you have left to "Buy it now!" and ensure that the "Deal is on!". (Groupon appears to have done a bulk-purchase discount on exclamation marks.) And if the business is too small to meet the demand? Literally, their loss. These collators take their cut however many extra hands are needed to honour the deal.
It's all a million miles away from the days when discount vouchers were cut out and presented to checkout assistants to save 10p. Today, such offers have been shunted aside by the sharp elbows of the e-dealers, who quickly learn to withstand the condescending looks of waiting staff as they present their print-outs for a "Three-course meal for £24". Alcohol not included? I'll just have a glass of tap water, thanks. As more and more businesses are discovering, it seems as if that "collective buying power" will only stretch so far.