Deal Fu: Inside the Culture of Obsessed Bargain Hunters, Part I
Before the Internet blossomed, the closest you could come to "the face" of a bona fide bargain hunter is if you were one, knew someone who was (like my Mom), or if you were in the midst of Black Friday or Boxing Day action as the shelves emptied. The media covers tragedies like Wal-Mart tramplings, but they've neglected thriving communities on the web who'll stop at nothing to get the deals they're delirious about. We're — say it with me as a LaFontaine tribute — IN A WORLD OF OBSESSED BARGAIN HUNTERS. If you're a newcomer to the deals jungle, put on the pith helmet you paid too much for, and join me on this tour so you can get comfortable adventuring...
First of all, "Obsessed" isn't necessarily an evil thing: I've coined a word, "gladdiction", which is a portmanteau of glad + addiction. Someone with such healthy, intense expertise is an invaluable resource to others, a sherpa on the rocky path to saving money. After all, there's no way you can scrimp your bucks without time being a factor — and while you can always make more money, you can't make more time.
Where do we find these Obsessed Bargain Hunters, or OBHs for short? Offline is inconvenient — the cleverest ones know the Internet is a prerequisite to the best prices. After all, the Net enables and amplifies our ability to spread and disseminate data, including what may or may not be a price mistake on a new laptop or other item you've coveted for months and would snap up… "If only the price would drop!" So, the short answer to finding OBHs: behind the front page of most prominent bargain sites are forums, including Wise Bread's own, common tools used to discuss daily deals. Infact, deals often bubble up to the front by means of social media, a tired buzzword for participating in what you consume — talking about it, voting it up if you approve, and even buying it.
This is why forums, a modern extension of the ol' "heard it through the grapevine" of who we rely on to help us make purchasing decisions, have such community-sourced power. It also generates intriguing dynamics, such as limited supplies being hastened to OoS (Out of Stock) status as more people, and perhaps eventually masses, catch on. In other words, there's good reason to keep mum about a hot deal, but a seasoned bargain hunter helps others join in on the fun because she knows they'll help her in the future. Being able to navigate these waters and tab through these pages at a rapid clip requires a certain finesse, which I'll term "deal fu", and aspire to explore the mechanics of in future posts.
SlickDeals.net, featured on Wise Bread's Best Deals, has one of the most active forums. Their "Hot Deals" sub-forum has accumulated in excess of 300,000 threads and 4.2 million posts, with multiple ways to sort for the good stuff. Certain posters like Selma and SP33DFR34K have accumulated legendary status, their 1,000s of contributions resulting in many reputation points being heaped upon them. "Repping" a post, clicking a link then commenting (similar to eBay feedback), is one way to show appreciation. Repping may be done in gratitude for the OP (Original Poster) of a massive deal thread, or may be given to someone within a thread who offers sound advice. For example, Ned wonders if Daisytron Pies are any good, and Charlotte mentions they're mostly tasty — but stay away from the strawberry flavor. Through repetitive repping, trust is formed, friendships are bonded, and close-knit tribes arise.
This is important for a number of reasons, such as: with deals in sight, unscrupulous scammers try to take advantage of others. To counter them, "haggle hordes" are virtual vigilantes, thumbs-downing threads in clusters and sinking them to the where they won't get exposure. The scammers can also be abuse-reported, and ultimately, excommunicated from the community for being jerks. Giving thumbs-up or -down is another way of expressing yourself socially, and on SlickDeals, it can only be done for threads, not individuals.
The tides can turn red in a matter of days, or hours. For example, SP33DFR34K recently claimed a 1TB external hard drive would be US$70. Hopefuls (including myself) lined up, reloading pages persistently and hoping to catch a sight at this live deal in the wild. Others expressed faith and devotion because of SP33DFR34K's excellent history, but like a cult gathering to see a UFO that never showed up, the hours dragged on, skepticism started to bubble forth, and then… the crowd tore into a jagged rage. The level of conversation descended to near-YouTube comment lows, anger or biting sarcasm present in just about every post. Tough crowd — even the best OBHs do make mistakes!
Just hours before, the thread had scored a 5-thumbs-up rating (the highest possible). But this descended as "Cyber Monday" stretched out, no deal in sight, eventually sinking beneath the weight of the grumbling mob to a 5-thumbs-down. To add injury to insult, the accompanying wiki post — found under the first post in the thread and is edited to post updated deal info — declared this an "EPIC FAIL", signifying how many hopes & dreams had been crushed in the aftermath.
Amidst the madness, some dealhunters — like cultists who kept their faith alive despite the UFO no-show — tried to rationalize and devise alternate ways of getting a low price, including eBay cashback from another store and other schemes. None were as compelling, but they braced the trampled spirits.
My colorful recounting isn't deriding anyone, for I consider myself an OBH. I, too, once was content to browse the front pages and read the headline summaries, but then, like New York's subway system, I learned about legends of lower prices which compelled me to investigate. So I descended into the forums, and from time to time, I live amongst the OBHs, sharing my experiences with defective products, feeling like the winning Super Bowl touchdown everytime there's a Woot-Off, and commiserating with fellow OBHs who just missed the window on something they desired.
The above is a mere glimpse — hence the "Part I" in the title — and since OBHs camp on the dunes of the economy looking for an oasis, this saga is far from over. Let me know in our comments if you want the tale to continue, and may the discounts be with you.