The Livingsocial offer that wasn’t social at all

James Steidl/Shutterstock
James Steidl/Shutterstock
Question: I’m looking for your help in resolving an issue with a deal I found on Recently, it published an offer for the Indy 500, which had options for $39 general seating, or $150 a person VIP seating. I wanted to attend with a few friends, so we all signed up for the VIP seats.

Livingsocial has an offer where if you purchase a deal, and then get three friends to do so as well, then you get yours free. Now, we all wanted to sit together, but figured 4 for the price of 3 wasn’t bad; however, there was no information on the deal page about seating policies. So I emailed customer support (their phone lines were down after their recent password issues) to ask whether this was possible.

After several emails back and forth, a representative called me and said she didn’t see a problem in having us sit together, even though we bought the tickets separately, and would confirm. So we went ahead and bought the tickets. Which is when things started to go south.

Shortly after buying the deal, I received an email letting me know that they would not be able to guarantee that we would be able to sit together, as we bought tickets separately. That is something I can understand.

I asked whether they could try to seat us together, and that I would appreciate an assurance that they try to seat us together. I received a brusque email reply telling me that I can’t have my cake and eat it too, and that I could opt to sit together or save on the single deal, and I chose to save on single deal.

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Now this was not the communication initially outlined, which irked me. However, I offered that they refund me my deal so that all four of us could pay the full price of the pass, but simply ensure we are seated together, because at that point, we would have paid the same as four people having bought the tickets together. I received a one-line email back saying that since more than 24 hours have passed from the time the deal was issued, they would not do a thing.

Since then I have tried to call, and sent emails, and have not gotten any replies — they always seem to be “getting back to me” on this.

I do not even mind paying the extra $150 to ensure we are seated together — we have not received seat assignments yet and there is a chance we can still end up seated together. However, if we are not, this would be a very expensive trip for a lot of us (as people are flying in for this) in which we would not be able to enjoy each other’s company and thus making this entire trip a complete waste of time. Can you help? — Akhil Kejriwal, Cleveland

Answer: The Indy 500 race is a social event, which is something a site that calls itself Living Social ought to understand. If a representative gave you assurances that you could sit together, then the company should have made every effort to do so rather than blowing you off with one-liner emails.

Livingsocial’s terms and conditions are hopelessly confusing. I can’t tell which rules applied to your event tickets, since there are several offer categories, each with similar-sounding names. But in reviewing all of the terms, it seems clear to me that the promise to sit together isn’t part of the terms. So you would have to take the Livingsocial representative at her word.

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Promises made by a representative on the phone are all but meaningless. And to be honest, as I review your own recollection of the conversation, it didn’t really sound like much of a promise, but more of a pledge to try to seat you together. That’s not gonna cut it.

Instead of the endless back and forth by email, I might have sent your whole thread to someone higher up at Livingsocial. You can find the right names on its website. Email addresses at Livingsocial are

I thought your request to refund the tickets and buy new ones at the full price wasn’t unreasonable. If Livingsocial had responded to you on time, then maybe the 24-hour window for refunds wouldn’t have closed.

I contacted Livingsocial on your behalf. The solution was really simple, and I’m surprised they didn’t tell you this by phone. Both the general admission and VIP lounge tickets for the Indy 500 are open seating, so they are first come, first served.

A representative called you and informed you about the seating policy. You also received $10 in Livingsocial vouchers to make up for the trouble.

Did Livingsocial offer Akhil Kejriwal enough compensation?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Kathleen Proud Keyte

    I am a little surprised that before he started complaining about who was sitting where he did not check (or already know) that it was general seating.

  • LOL at the resolution. Didn’t see that one coming!

  • Yeah, I was laughing at it too!

  • TonyA_says

    What do you expect from someone who loves to watch cars go around a big circle? :)

  • Raven_Altosk

    Okay…well…that ended well…

  • Yeah, don’t you love a happy ending?

  • Cam

    How odd. You would think you would investigate a little before going to all this trouble.

  • mbods

    Wow, what bad customer service!

  • KarlaKatz

    The adage is true: You just can’t fix stupid.

  • Jason Hanna

    Here’s my problem with this..

    “After several emails back and forth, a representative called me and said
    she didn’t see a problem in having us sit together, even though we
    bought the tickets separately, and would confirm. So we went ahead and
    bought the tickets.”

    I read that as saying, the rep called, didn’t think there would be a problem, but would find out for certain and let them know. The OP went ahead and bought the tickets WITHOUT confirmation that they’d be able to sit together, then received notification that they wouldn’t be able to guarantee it.

    Seems to me they jumped the gun and bought without confirmation. Glad it all worked out for them, but, had it not.. Seems it would have been more on them than livingsocial. Of course, that COULD be read as the rep didn’t see a problem and is confirming that it’s not a problem, I suppose, but I wouldn’t take it that way.

  • EdB

    The thing about the email and then phone call exchange that intrigued me was the “promise” was made via the phone so there was no written record of it. I agree with you about the rep, but I found it inteinteresting about the sudden change from email to a phone call.

  • Deborah Orth

    Chris what really struck me was your statement Livingsocial’s terms and conditions are hopelessly confusing, and you are a skilled professional. Then the solution turned out to be so easy

  • emanon256

    Must be a lot of Indy 500 fans on here :)

  • emanon256

    I have actually had very good customer service experiences from Living Social. I have had a fare number of companies issue certificates with them, and then the company goes south, and in all cases Living Social has come through for me. GroupOn on the other hand has been a nightmare to deal with.

  • JenniferFinger

    If the rep couldn’t guarantee it, then s/he shouldn’t have made that promise, and Livingsocial shouldn’t have been sending curt one-liners in response to his requests for assistance in clarifying.

  • emanon256

    I read it that way too. They though it would be okay but had to confirm.

  • emanon256

    Ive found that with Living Social they always call. They never respond to e-mails. At least that’s my experience. But then again, they have always gone above and beyond for me. Hopefully they don’t go to the phone so they can weasel their way out with no record. But like I said, I have not dealt with a company with such good customer service lately. I am shocked by the e-mails the OP received. I hope Living Social has dealt with that person appropriately.

  • TonyA_says

    Isn’t it amazing how these groupon wannabees can raise gazillions of venture money and still forget to put up a good ole customer service center?

    From wiki:

    The company received $5 million in Series A
    funding in June, 2008 from Grotech Ventures and Steve Case. In January
    2010, LivingSocial raised $5 million in Series B funding from Grotech
    Ventures and AOL Founder Steve Case. Two months later, on March 11,
    2010, the company announced a $25 million round led by U.S. Venture
    Partners, Grotech and Case. LivingSocial then acquired $14 million
    Series C round, from Lightspeed Venture Partners with U.S. Venture,
    Grotech and Case contributing.[9]
    Most recently, US Venture Partners and Grotech invested an additional
    $10.23 million of equity offering to the company. Its fundraising for
    2010 comes to $50 million.[10] In December 2010, LivingSocial received a $175 million investment from[11] LivingSocial also received an additional $8 million investment from Lightspeed Venture Partners.[11]
    In March 2011, less than four months after the $175 million Amazon
    investment, LivingSocial raised an additional $400 million from prior
    investors like Amazon and Lightspeed Venture Partners, and several new
    ones including T. Rowe Price and Institutional Venture Partners. As of early April, LivingSocial is valued at more than $3 billion.[12][13]

  • EdB

    No. Probably just a lot that know it’s not a circle, but oval or other shape. Anything but a circle. :)

  • EdB

    It could be they normally always call. I don’t know. Never dealt with them. I was just commenting on this particular incident where the switch was with information that could have bound them to something.

  • TonyA_says

    As if that makes a big difference in watching the cars go round and around :)

  • TonyA_says

    I am actually more concerned of what the meaning of IT is.

    From the article I get the impression that the OP paid VIP prices because he THOUGHT he was getting RESERVED seats (along with his buddies) as opposed to General Admission seating.

    A quick googling of Indy500 indicates that there are actually reserved seats in some sections.

    Makes me wonder if the OP and the Livingsocial rep actually were talking about the same thing.

    I am not sure what they mean by a VIP but Indy500 has a totally different interpretation of PREMIUM here

    And VIP according to Indy500 costs a minimum of $55K a year

  • TonyA_says

    OK, here is a cached copy of the LivingSocial offer:

    It does say “Access to Private Seating” …

    Pay $150 ($313 value) for one VIP ticket package, including:
    VIP Entrance for one
    Access to the Party Tent with flat-screen TVs
    Access to the Rattle Zone
    Unlimited trips down the water slide
    Private open bar with a server
    Private Cobra Cabana to enjoy with 15 other LivingSocial VIP purchasers
    Lounge seating
    Private bathrooms

    Wonder what the confusion was all about? Failure to read and understand maybe?
    Sometimes that’s what happens when you observe fast objects going round and around, especially after drinking alcohol.
    But for the Livingsocial rep – no excuses.

  • TonyA_says

    This is the area the OP was in.

    Quite apropos for Living Social.

  • EdB

    Maybe the question the OP was asking was how the other 15 people are chosen and if they could make sure their group would be together in the same cabana? I can see where there might be some confusion if the seats in the cabana are not assigned but the groups are. Just a guess.

  • TonyA_says

    The are 5 Cobra Cabanas. Which one will each of them be assigned to?
    As long as they are all in the same cabana, then no problem.
    The private open bar will solve all their problems :)

  • EdB

    I am guessing they just wanted to be sure they would be in the same group is all. Not leave it to chance.

  • TonyA_says

    I am sure they had a happy ending especially after seeing these pictures (where the stayed)

  • emanon256

    Reminds me of why I didn’t go out in public much when I lived in Indiana.

  • TonyA_says

    Yeah, a cabana costs $5500. You can put 16 people in one of them. So LivingSocial should have known how many of the 5 cabanas they (or their vendor) rented and where they would assign their guests. LivingSocial FAIL here.

  • TonyA_says

    LOL. I’m surprised the OP got to a guy like Chris Elliott :)
    I though he would be complaining about how inappropriate the place was.
    But then again he must have seen the bikini contest and changed his mind.

  • emanon256

    A few times a year I get an e-mail from Living Social advertising some beer tasting organized by some local Beer club. I never heard of it until Living Social started and always see it advertised just on Living Social. They have General Admission for $25 (Regularly $50) and VIP Admission for $50 (Regularly $150). The only difference is VIP admission gets you in 2 hours earlier and you get a free t-shirt. I decided to check it out and went to the Beer Club’s website. Well, low and behold, you can only get tickets to it through Living Social, and the regular price is $25 for GA and $50 for VIP. I called the beer people and they even confirmed that the only way to get tickets is through Living Social and I asked them why it says $50 value and $150 value, and they said they have to show they are giving at least a 50% discount in order to sell the tickets through Living Social. So in this case, the entire regular price is bogus! There was no deal, that’s just how they sold tickets.

    Like I said, I really like Living Social, I have found some good deals on them, and when I felt wronged, their customer service went above and beyond. But the old adage holds true, buyer beware.

  • emanon256

    Hahaha. Or had he not gone yet when he contacted Chris? Maybe the inappropriate case is coming next?

    I swear the wife and I went to a bar or two when we lived there and they were all like those pictures. However, the non-smoking bars were quite nice, and quiet, and pleasant. And non-smoking which I preferred. And you know all those people of wall mart e-mail forwards? I swear all of the pictures were taken in Indiana.

  • TonyA_says

    In this case neither the OP nor the LivingSocial rep completely understood what the VIP package was all about, IMO. Took a while for it to sink in. The first thing that came to my mind when I read VIP lounge was an airconditioned room with padded reclining chairs and cocktails served all day. But once you do basic research, the VIP package here means free booze under a tent on an elevated mound so you can see the performers better on the stage. The race is only secondary. Read this villagevoice photo essay about this years happening at the snake pit …

  • emanon256

    Basically they are calling everything VIP these days. And if everyone is a VIP, then no one is really VIP. Just more marketing puffery.

  • TonyA_says

    Actually this case is quite interesting. If you individually wanted to buy a single spot of the cabana you couldn’t unless you rented the whole cabana for $5500. So what LivingSocial did was divide the whole cabana’s cost by 16 people and then discounted it by more than 50%. Essentially they created a different product. The OP was definitely getting a discount. NO doubt about that. But in doing so (dividing the cabana), people had new questions or issues that never came up before.

  • emanon256

    Actually, Living Social didn’t do any of that, they merely do marketing and sales, everything else is done and arranged by the original merchant. The whole business model is that businesses must approach Living Social with their offer, and it must be a savings of at least 50%. Then Living Social adversities it and sells it, and the merchant is 100% responsible for honoring it. Also, the merchant only gets about 50% of what Living Social collected. So Living social is making a lot of money selling things, that must be heavily discounted, that they don’t have anything to do with. They created a prefect money making business.

    What I think happened here is the Indy 500 people wanted to sell more cabanas, and knew they couldn’t sell all of the cabanas at full price, so they issued a deal with Living Social dividing up the number of people per cabana and giving a 50% min discount, that way they could sell more. Living Social created a whole new market place for them to do this, and Indy 500 got more cabanas sold. Indy 500 was even legitimate with their discount.

    According to their terms Living Social has no part in the deal, doesn’t have to answer questions, has no say in who gets what, how its honored, etc. That’s all up to the vender to do. Living social is just there to sell the tickets.

  • TonyA_says

    Oh interesting. So by selling a spot in the cabana individually then they (Indy 500) created a problem since smaller group of friends still wanted to be together :)
    Now what does LivingSocial customer service have to do to answer questions like those of the OP. Does it pass the question to the vendor?

  • emanon256

    Yes, Indy 500 created the issue.

    I can’t find anything in the terms and conditions about Living Social passing questions on to the vendor. All it says is that any questions should be asked to the vendor directly, and a link to the vendors website or contact information is listed on every deal. I am wondering if the OP was talking to the Indy 500 people and not the Living Social and didn’t realize it? Especially since Living Social has a 7 day refund policy, and the OP said 24 hours.

    Except as explicitly stated otherwise in the terms of a
    specific Deal, if You change your mind about purchasing a Deal, just
    write us at
    within seven (7) days of Your purchase and LivingSocial will refund the
    Paid Portion of any unredeemed Voucher to Your purchasing credit/debit
    card or other payment mechanism. In addition, LivingSocial will always
    honor your request for a refund of the Paid Portion of any unredeemed
    Voucher if the Merchant goes out of business before the promotional
    period expires.

  • Tincanrider

    All’s well that ends well… But as usual, it’s not the principle of the thing, it’s the money

  • pauletteb

    And how “social” can you be with all that noise!

  • pauletteb

    A few minutes of research on the OP’s part would have made it clear that seating wasn’t a problem.

  • noah

    18% of poll responders think this was NOT enough compensation????

  • Eileen

    This is a situation where better manners on all sides would have solved this problem. This is sandbox 101.

  • JenniferFinger

    Quite possibly they weren’t on the same page. But the rep should have been honest about whatever s/he could promise the OP. And I think we both agree that curt one-liners are inappropriate customer service, period. Even if one has to back out of a deal, being cold, brusque and abrupt with a customer is not the way to do it. All that does is generate hostility which can come back to bite you.

  • Ann

    Now why didn’t the consumer know that those seats are open seating? The Indy 500 website shows that they are seated on “mounds” and they can bring their own blankets and chairs.

  • TonyA_says

    Because it is hard to believe you will pay $150 and still need to bring a blanket and sit on grass :)

  • Ann

    I know. It sounds like a rip off no matter how you look at it.

  • TonyA_says

    I agree. In fact I am not sure the OP got what he thought he was getting. The biggest sign of this was his assumption they would get ASSIGNED SEATS (to watch the race).
    In reality all they were getting was a seat on a cabana (fancy word for a big umbrella or tent) facing a stage that had the bikini contest. The so-called VIP lounge (a hilly area to watch the disgusting show, not the race) only costs $20 more than a general admission ticket IIRC. Maybe he was too ashamed to tell Elliott what he really got into (the snake pit).

  • PsyGuy

    The real issue is, why would anyone want to watch cars drive around in a circle?

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