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Holiday shoppers flock to Groupon for discounts

Bundled up with a scarf during her self-directed tour of the city on State Street in Chicago’s Loop, Katie Currey, a 27-year-old student said she signed up for Groupon’s email offers but hasn’t bought anything for herself yet.

However, Currey said she is considering using Groupon to purchase gifts this holiday season, “the right offer comes along for more everyday kind of stuff, not things like skydiving.”

Businesses are struggling to get new customers, Currey said.

“Groupon will be in business no matter if the [economic] times are good or bad,” she said.

Groupon is a national site launched in November 2008 that offers city dwellers daily offers posted by local stores and shops. As of January 2011 Groupon had more than 50 million subscribers with more than $980 million saved by consumers after using Groupon.

In front of the Verizon store on State Street, Reggie White, 30, said he’s used Groupon for restaurant deals. “It seems fair,” said White, dressed in a blue tie and white shirt. “It’s smart—anytime you can save a dollar,” adding that he is unemployed.

This winter season, Groupon offers discounts on stores or spa experiences to cater to the holiday consumer.

Sample deals on Dec. 1 include: $4 for $7 at Café Descartes at 327 N. Michigan Ave., $8 for $12 at iO Theater 3541 N. Clark St. and $49 for $170 for an in-office 30-minute teeth whitening at Smiling Bright on 1247 S. Wabash Ave.

On Nov. 30, after a mandated quiet period following its initial public offering of stock, Groupon chief executive officer Andrew Mason announced in a blog update on the company’s website that the company would launch new features such as “Groupon Now!” a program where Groupon members type in their location and Groupon sends them deals in their neighborhood.

Photo by Lisa Schulz

Martin Whitmer, a 42-year-old who works in government relations in the city, has been an avid user of Groupon for three years. “It’s a very smart tool in this economy to save money,” Whitmer said. “If used properly, they can be very beneficial as long as you know what you want before you go to the store.”

Whitmer was outside a wall of empty office space, with his hands full of shopping bags from Lids and Macy’s.

“It’s terrific that people are being serious about their economic situation and thinking about ways to save,” he said. “We’re not over extending ourselves and coupons are a significant part of it.”

Grouponicus, a holiday celebrated by Groupon, which is only open to consumers in the United States, will offer Groupon members 50 percent off deals on products and travel for the wintertime holiday season. Groupon sold more than 650,000 Grouponicus deals nationally between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, an increase of more than 500 percent from last year’s sales, Mason wrote on the blog.

“We’re making sure gifts are relevant to our buyers, you won’t find a deal for an oil change this month on our site,” said Julie Mossler, a spokeswoman for Groupon.

Lisa Schulz, Madeline DePetto and Chad Taylor contributed to this story.

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