Three women are crying foul after a spa in North Vancouver, B.C., refused to honour a coupon one of them bought online — but the spa's owner says the now-defunct website they bought it from is to blame. 

The trio jumped at a deal offered on the website nCrowd in August: $49 for two hours of treatments at Marquis Salon, normally a $200 value, according to nCrowd advertising.

"We were really looking forward to it," says Kirsten Durand, whose friend Ethel St. Croix bought three packages, paying nCrowd by credit card, and calling the spa to book the appointments using the deal.

Last Friday, Durand and her two friends got babysitters and made the 30-minute drive from Port Coquitlam, B.C., for the reservation they thought they had at the spa.

But she said when they arrived, the owner told them he couldn't provide the services they had booked because he hadn't been paid by nCrowd for the deal. 

"The way we were treated was not very nice," said Durand. "I felt really helpless, and I'm not normally one to feel that way."

When Durand's friend St. Croix contacted nCrowd to complain, she received a reply from another company, BoomStreet, saying it had acquired the rights to nCrowd's name and email database, but nCrowd was no longer in business.

When CBC News contacted BoomStreet, it offered the same response.

Marquis Salon & Dayspa

Marquis Salon & Dayspa in North Vancouver was honouring the nCrowd deal at first, said a representative, but stopped after the online coupon website hadn't paid the spa for months. (CBC)

Spa says nCrowd to blame

A man affiliated with the spa, Rhaasan Mehaidtli, declined to speak to CBC News on camera. But he claims he hadn't been paid by nCrowd for several months, and could no longer honour the coupons because he was out thousands of dollars from providing services for which he was not reimbursed.

nCrowd, based in Tennessee, has racked up nearly 900 complaints through the Better Business Bureau in the past three years. The complaints range from not being sent the correct product to situations similar to Durand's. 

Mehaidtli said he still honours discounts from other coupon companies who have paid him. 

However, Durand is more concerned with how they were treated at the spa, than the fact that nCrowd took their money and didn't follow through on the deal.

"It wasn't friendly. It wasn't courteous. There weren't any apologies. It was just 'get out of my salon.'"

St. Croix has filed a complaint with her credit card company, asking for the charges to be reversed, said Durand.

Buyer beware, says BBB

The number of complaints against nCrowd is "extremely high," said Evan Kelly, senior communications advisor with the Better Business Bureau in Vancouver.

He recommends people considering group deals from other sites check whether they have any outstanding complaints on the BBB website.

Evan Kelly BBB

Buyers considering online coupon deals should research the coupon site — and the business offering the discount — before buying, said Evan Kelly of the Better Business Bureau. (CBC)

"Do your homework. If you're interested in these coupon sites certainly do your research," said Kelly.

"If there's a business you want to buy from on a coupon site, call the business ahead of time. Make sure they're actually there to redeem the coupons for you."

However, that might not have helped in Durand's case, as the salon was still honouring the deal in late August, when they bought the coupon and made the appointment.

Kelly says a business caught in a similar situation as the salon should consider how they can make things right with the customer — no matter who is to blame.

"They can look at this as an exercise in public relations, if you will," he said. "We would hope — there's a contract there, a receipt has been issued to the consumer — that this contract would be honoured."
 

With files from Dan Burritt