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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -
Online sites like Groupon and Living Social offer cheap deals on everything from takeout to tropical getaways. If all goes well, you can really get a steal. If something goes wrong, you may end up very frustrated.
As late as December, Alter Ego Salon and Day Spa in South Charlotte offered deals on Groupon and Half Off Depot for massages, manicures, and pedicures. A few weeks later, the salon closed its doors, leaving dozens of customers in the dark.
"There are good ways of doing this, and then there are ways that just leave your customers high and dry," said Tom Bartholomy, Pres. and CEO of the Charlotte Better Business Bureau. "No sign. No, 'Who do I call? What do I do?' It's just not the way to do things."
Clients who call Alter Ego can't reach anyone. The website is blank.
The owners, however, are still doing business in Charlotte. The same people who own Alter Ego also own Blis Salon in the Blakeney Shopping Center.
One customer says she made that discovery by looking at her bank statement.
Sites like Yelp are filling up with angry comments. A user named Angela writes, "Buyer beware!! Owner sold gift certificates in December and closed in January!!! She also owns Blis Salon in Blakeney. My bank account shows the money I spent at Alter Ego went to Blis, but they refuse to refund me..."
Jennifer Godfrey owns Blis. Her husband owns Alter Ego.
"We're not trying to take anyone's money from them," said Godfrey. "We are not shady people. We're just trying to run our businesses, and we realized this wasn't making it. We couldn't go on."
According to Godfrey, she and her husband are working with Groupon, Half Off Depot, and the BBB to help customers get their money back. The BBB has received a dozen complaints in the last month and told WBTV that Godfrey's husband said he "may or may not" offer refunds.
"So we're left with, basically falling on the good graces of the owner, who happens to own another salon. In talking to him, he said, 'Well, go and send those complaints over to me, and we may or may not do something with them.' Not exactly the comforting words these customers wanted to hear," said Bartholomy.
Godfrey says clients need to contact Groupon and Half Off Depot to get their money back. Groupon told WBTV that customers can email email@example.com for help.
"Ultimately, they purchased those gift certificates from Groupon. We do not see that money. The client, when they purchase it online, that money goes to Groupon. It's Groupon that later pays us. So, especially if they have just purchased those certificates recently, more than likely Groupon still has that money," said Godfrey.
She apologized for inconveniencing customers and said she tried to call as many clients as possible to let them know the salon was closing. She said Alter Ego will actually reopen later this year after some reorganization, but gift certificates will not be valid because individual stylists will be renting chairs.
Bartholomy says unsatisfied customers can try contacting Groupon and Half Off Depot for refunds, but the sites aren't legally required to hand them out. His advice for any hot web deal:
"Use it, and use it quickly. No matter what restaurant it is or what spa it is or what retailer it is, you don't know what their life span is," said Bartholomy.
Alter Ego customers having trouble getting refunds may also file a report with the BBB and the NC Attorney General's Office.