It seems like a new daily deal site comes online just about every week, promising you 50 percent off anything you can swipe a credit card at. All kinds of copycats are chasing Groupon's $15 billion tail. But getting discounts doesn't have to be all about teeth whitening and tapas.
The daily deal model can be a force for positive change by sending a message about the buying power of conscious consumers, or as Blissmo is trying to do (see below), changing our buying habits for the better.
As we pointed out earlier, Groupon evolved out of a do-gooding platform before ballooning into the fastest growing company of all time. It has all but left that mission behind, and even inexplicably chose to mock nonprofits in Super Bowl ads. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Another mainstream deal site, Living Social proved these platforms can be used for giving as well as buying when it raised — and matched! — more than $1 million in donations for tsunami relief in Japan.
And then there are the sites with social and environmental consciousness built into the deals and the companies behind them. Here are four daily deal sites that are better (for the world) than Groupon, so you can have your discount and support your values, too.
Blissmo's founder, Sundeep Ahuja, says he doesn't want to be a green version of Groupon. He wants to stop climate change. "We're on a mission to shift consumption patterns," he says.
"This site was founded with the philosophy to have macro impact on micro actions," he says, comparing it to Kiva, the microfinance platform — another organization he helped get off the ground.
Kiva made lending to poor entrepreneurs accessible, easy and addictive to everyday Americans. That's what he wants to do for environmentally friendly consumption.
"People don't care about climate change," he says provocatively. "The people who say they care, they don't act. It's effectively a psychology problem. So we're out to find amazing products that are better for people, better for their families and for their world, and shine a spotlight on these products." But not a "green" spotlight, just a regular old 60-percent-off email spotlight.
Early on, Ahuja cultivated partnerships with environmental groups with massive email lists like the Nature Conservancy and the Care2 consumer community. Blissmo now serves the daily deals to those groups, a savvy business move that bodes well for the young startup. Through these kinds of partners Blissmo reaches several million people, with more than 100,000 subscribers signed up for Blissmo itself.
Right now the products are similar to what you'd find on the mainstream daily deal sites — beauty products, food, clothing — but Blissmo vets the companies for environmental impact. Ahuja says he turns to third party verifications like organic, fair trade, or B-Corporation certifications. And when that's not available, it's a gut check by Blissmo staff who have backgrounds in the social change space.
It doesn't mean all the Blissmo deals are do-no-harm models of perfection. In fact, that might not be the best strategy for impact. If consumption habits switch toward the best in industry companies, even within bad industries, then, Ahuja says, he's succeeding.
For instance, good luck finding an environmentally friendly airline, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't fly the best of the bunch when you travel. Ahuja says he's reached out to Virgin Atlantic because he thinks they're better than the rest. (For the record, flying is usually more environmentally friendly than driving your car.)
Look for new kinds of incentives for better consumerism out of this site as they scale.
This tiny startup is just for the folks of Orange County, Calif., right now, but if the model works, watch for copycats around the country. DealGooder boasts that it "brings together socially conscious shoppers, local businesses and nonprofits, to make this world a better place, one deal at a time."
Cofounder Cara Mungo tells GOOD, "In less than five months and in just one city, we have grown our subscriber base by 600 percent (in addition to the thousands of people that make up our nonprofit partners’ subscriber base of donors and supporters), donated close to $10,000 to local charities, and saved people over $100,000."
The logic is the same as Groupon: customers sign up for a daily email with one big discounted offer a day that "tips" if enough people sign on. But with this site, 50 percent of profits go to a featured charity that changes each week.
Right now DealGooder posts modest goals for small, local organizations in the area. This week's target, for instance, is to raise $500 for Share Our Selves that would provide food for 165 needy families. DealGooder offers half-price movie tickets to get you there. The site posted a personal best of $2,000 in one week for the American Red Cross Japan Relief Fund.
Mungo says, "Our DealGooder philosophy: have fun, do good, help others." She thinks it's working because the site plans to spread into five new markets in the next six months.
Operating in five cities in Canada, ethicalDeal fully embraces the "green lifestyle" it promotes through discount offers, in sharp contrast to Blissmo. In fact, ethicalDeal uses the word green — in green font! — more than any other site on this list. "Part green city guide, party green deal site, part green action network, ethicalDeal helps you discover the best green stuff to do."
Behind this green-thusiasm is a smart logic from founder and social entrepreneur Annaela Krebs who recognizes many socially conscious consumers have trouble finding and vetting companies they want to patronize. By offering up a slate of approved local brands and businesses, ethicalDeal becomes a resource for choice, not just a temptation for impulse buys.
The deals are environmentally friendly versions of the mainstream deal sites: 64 percent off eco-friendly cleaning services, 50 percent off organic and health food, 50 percent off hemp clothing.
There's also a bonus, though: straight up cash, or account credits anyway. If you refer a friend, you get $5 when they make their first purchase. You can only spend the money on the site of course.
4. Green Box Top
As we reported earlier, Green Box Top was founded by two yoga instructors who tried promoting their business on mainstream deal sites but didn't like the glut of unnecessary cosmetics foisted on subscribers. So they started a site that donates a portion of profits to charity and leaves the Botox off the product list.
True to the yoga roots, the San Fransisco-based site focuses on health and wellness products a tad more than the others. Green Box Top only offers products that "improve the environment, your wellness, the community, or all three."
There's no rigorous vetting system to define what that means, something the daily-deal sector could certainly use. But there is transparency. Each deal is accompanied by an explanation of why that company passed GBT muster, so you know why today's half-priced acupuncturist, or refillable organic laundry detergent improve the community or the planet enough to get on the list.
The site has local deals in San Fransisco, Denver and Eugene, Ore. It's coming soon to Los Angeles.
A version of this story originally appeared on GOOD. It is republished here with permission.