This post comes from Brian O'Connell at partner site MainStreet.
They may be called "daily deals," but often those trendy once-a-day offers are weighted in favor of the retailer and not the consumer. Still, you shouldn't necessarily opt out just because you fear a shady deal staring back up at you from your smartphone or laptop.
You can actually turn the tables and get the best from that deal if you follow some key strategies. Here are five ways to get the most from a daily deal:
Use deals only on things you really need. If recent studies are right, almost half of all consumers will redeem a daily deal coupon this year, but that doesn't mean you should leap at every or even most offers you get. Here's a good tip: Use deals only on things you really want or need. For instance, don't just get a haircut on a whim if you don't need one for a while.
It's a good idea to figure out what's useful to you, so find a deal site that will accommodate your needs. Websites such as OutdoorDaily.com, for example, will send email or text alerts once a day offering discounts on hiking, camping and fishing gear. Trust us, there is no lack of sites that cater to your needs and interests, but you'll have to do some research. (Post continues below.)
Beware of deals that aren't really deals. Daily deal sites are veering away from straightforward cash discounts and heading toward offering deals on specific products. Groupon, for example, recently offered a deal through McDonald's for a Big Mac and fries for "half off." What Groupon didn't mention was that McDonald's already offers a 30% discount for "bundling" the burger and fries, and you get that deal every day. But McDonald's, like a lot of companies, is happy to unload a lot of low-overhead items, such as Big Macs, to get you to buy premium, profit-making items such as french fries.
Get organized. Eversave, an emerging player in the daily deal sector, offers a good tip for deal shoppers through its network of "expert bloggers." Devon Weaver of the consumer site MamaCheaps.com organizes deals by expiration date and pops them in a three-ring binder. "Keep purchased deals in a binder sorted by expiration date, or mark those dates on a calendar," she says. "Setting up alerts on your phone works great, too. Now you'll always know when a deal is about to expire."
Buy only from trusted sources. Another Eversave tip is to pursue deals that come only from a reputable site. The firm also suggests following advice from the consumer site AddictedToSaving.com, which recommends making sure there is an easily accessible customer service team on hand to handle problems.
Adjust your expectations. We'll admit it: Many daily deal customers don't have as good a retail experience as they may have anticipated. A Cornell University study showed that user reviews of retailers after a daily deal experience were lower than before the shopping experience. That doesn't mean a deal shopper necessarily had a horrible experience, but it does indicate shoppers aren't exactly blown away by every daily deal.
Above all else, caution is the watchword when you're shopping for a daily deal. Always understand that the daily deal is designed by businesses to generate money for businesses -- and that you, the consumer, aren't the priority you might think you are.
More on MainStreet and MSN Money: