Just like the rest of the World, Dubai also has caught on to the online shopping fever. Multiple online portals are trying to snatch the small number of online buyers from each other. All these are virtually clones of each other. So much so, that the two most popular websites also have similar sounding names: Cobone and his brother Groupon.
Although I have been here only a few months, I have already had my share of excitement at finding 80% off on hair treatments, 60% off on hotel deals and what not. But being a cautious buyer, I have done my research. I’d like to share the same with you, because I care for you dear readers.
The discounts that are mentioned on these websites often mean that you are either paying for substandard service or making full payment only in the form of additional payments not covered in the deal. I’ll explain how.
First we were trying to book a weekend vacation in one of the Northern Emirates for our Anniversary. We checked several deals and compared the prices of these with the cost of same number of days stay at the same hotels through their online bookings. It turns out most hotels have some or the other offer on their website. Say, book 2 nights and get 30% off on the 3rd night or complimentary set dinner/breakfast etc. So you are not getting any real discount on the rooms from the deals. Although, some of these deals also come with complimentary tickets to a waterpark, zoo etc. However, even if you add the price of tickets to the hotel cost, you may still be somewhere near the same figure being advertised as 50% off. Moreover, some hotels have different sets of rooms they give out to guests who have made bookings through these deals. This was reluctantly admitted by one of the Hotels on Yas Island we were trying to book through Grupon. Eventually,we made bookings with another hotel with slightly better rooms at a cost little less than that advertised in the deal.
There are often annoying conditions attached with the deal buyers – such as you can’t use the coupon until 48 hours of purchase, or taxes are excluded from the deal, or you have to make a booking 48 hours in advance etc. I was trying to book a desert safari through one of these deals. I called the travel company first to confirm any preconditions. It was a Wednesday morning, I remember, and I wanted to book a safari for Friday evening. Technically I was 48 hours early. But this guy told me that I needed to make a booking 48 hours in advance and weekend was not counted in the 48 hours. So, even if I bought the vouchers at the very moment, they would pick it up for appointments only the next day. They were close on Thursday and Friday, which means I could ask for a booking only on Saturday and then count 48 hours from there. Blah. I’d rather pay 30 bucks extra and do it this weekend. And also not be treated like a poor cousin of direct-pay customers.
A third instance, very important, was at a driving school. I bought a deal that claimed to slash the cost of my driving lessons by 50%. Despite this, I ended up paying AED 1600+ for other different kind of fees while registration. This included AED 100 for an eye test, AED 600 for theory classes, AED 60 for an information booklet, AED 150 for typing of my form in Arabic etc. However, later I learnt through my interaction with other students, that the fee structure for direct pay customers is different. And everyone ends up paying more or less the same. Maybe a difference of AED150 or something. Moreover, you have to visit the main branch for registration as compared to a direct payer who can walk into any outlet. I am already fearing that I might also be failed in my first driving test attempt just because they want me to pay for 10 more classes. Will keep you posted on this though.
Last, but not yet done, is an irresistible hair deal I bought for a keratin blowout. The treatment cost is around AED1,200 but this deal was only available for AED150. Right now I am kinda sick of my curls and want a sleek look. Keratin has been luring me for long. So I am taking the dive, despite all my concerns about the deal. Although, will take my precautions and keep you posted on how it goes.
Until then, you all, be informed, and happy shopping online!