May 012011
 
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ONCE the domain of the impoverished, coupon shopping has lost its stigma and become the de rigueur way of finding a bargain.

Expensive hair and beauty treatments, overseas holidays, wine, dinners and flowers: these are the luxuries that usually go by the wayside when budgets are tighter. But as the financial crisis closed in, consumers have turned to more inventive ways of spending yet saving.

Savvy internet shoppers do not need to scour high-street stores or shopping centres when they can let their mouse do the walking at home, work, in a cafe or on the bus to buy that day’s offer from a group-auction or coupon site.

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A flood of sites has changed the way we shop, and even challenged the customer loyalty that may have been cultivated over years.

Of the 20 key sites last year, four dominated the market – Spreets (owned by Yahoo), Scoopon, Jump On It and Cudo (owned by ninemsn and Nine Entertainment Co) – making up 79 per cent of the industry’s revenue, according to research company Telsyte.

So far all the sites available have been Australian, but the US giant Groupon has recently entered the market.

The market is the fastest-growing sector in online retailing, Telsyte research manager Sam Yip says. It made about $63 million last year and is forecast to grow to $242 million this year.

Of that, ”97 per cent of the market revenues were generated in the second half of last year, so we’ve really only seen rapid growth in the second half of last year, and we’re continuing to see that in this first quarter as well”, Yip said.

”It is an expanding category but it is quite new. Australia is approximately 18 months behind the US market but Australians are getting used to online group buying.”

The phenomenon began in the United States and China, before spreading to other markets, including Australia.

Health and beauty offer the largest category of deals, attracting mostly younger women, but Yip says that is expected to change as businesses add more products and services.

”What we’re seeing is a mixture between aggressive deal hunters and people getting into group buying on a trial basis,” she said.

The companies take a 50 per cent cut from each business.

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