Natalie Watson

Natalie Watson has written 5 posts for The Digital Bullpen

Trend seen in group buying sites

TAMPA – In the past few years, group buying sites have popularized in dozens of geographic markets worldwide, providing large discounts at local retailers and enabling consumers to indulge in luxuries that seem unattainable during a recession.

Group buying sites are internet-based websites that have become popular around the world. The online coupons themselves – available for different retail stores, restaurants and even spas – are only purchasable in certain geographic areas in the world, differing per website.

Each site has a different business plan. Some reward shoppers based on how many of their friends they can convince to sign up, while most coupons are inactive until a certain number of takers have bought them.

Also, each deal is restricted to some degree. Most have expiration dates 6 months out from the time of purchase and the number each person can purchase restricts some.

Group buying sites began to appear at the height of the recession. Since then sales have increased up to 60 percent in 2009 and 70 percent in 2010 according to reports by CBS news.

The average consumers spends $10 to $30 on a purchase from group buying sites and with each site having millions of subscribers, the industry revenue is skyrocketing.

“If I’m saving 50 percent to 80 percent on one item, that’s ‘X’ amount of money I can spend somewhere else,” said Anthony Teta, an avid Groupon fan and USF student. “You just have to decide if it is something you actually want, or if you only want it because it’s 70 percent off.”

These sites, such as and, offer daily discounts for restaurants, salons and spas, and other local retailers in the range of 50 percent to 75 percent off.

One year ago, had 1.5 million subscribers in America, or a 1-205 ratio, according to Today, one in six Americans subscribe to Similar sites have seen exponential growth over the last year as well.

“I was referred to group buying sites by multiple friends,” said Austin Karr, a New York City resident and former USF student who has been using Groupon for 3 years. “They make living in our economy and still enjoying usual luxuries a lot easier, and I can play tourist in my own city.”

Brendon Harbour, a sophomore at USF, used Groupon offers at restaurants and amusements rides while vacationing with his family in Las Vegas. Harbour said the discounts helped ease the financial load.

“Exploring group buying sites is a great way to find things to do in a given city and allows you to do them cheaply,” said Harbour.

People can be notified of each day’s deal by signing up for daily emails or checking Facebook or Twitter. Many of the group buying sites – specifically Groupon and LivingSocial – also have their own iPhone apps.

The majority of group buying sites cater to a larger audience and larger metropolitan areas, but some sites target a narrower audience.

“Other sites I’ve explored, like 8coupons or WGTG, are limited in the coupons they offer and their market locations,” said Vargus. “Some are just simply more expensive, too.”

Campus Dibs, a Groupon for college students according to, acknowledges the stereotypical college student with minimal funding. The site offers discounts on textbooks, school supplies and restaurants.

Gus Vargas, a computer engineering major at USF, uses Groupon and Campus Dibs frequently to find local deals. A classmate referred Vargas to both sites.

“The ease and accessibility of group buying sites – in addition to what they offer – caters to everyone,” said Vargas. “With most college students living on a budget, the idea of such large discounts on food and entertainment is especially appealing.”

The Top 9 sites, according to the annual revenue of each, include Groupon, LivingSocial, Tipper, 8Coupons, Buy With Me, Gilt City, Juice in the City (JITC), WE Give To Get (WGTG), and

Groupon-style group buying is popular in more than 15 countries and over 100 markets and has reached more than 35 million users.

Closing time: Students prepare to move out of residence halls

As the spring semester comes to a close, students living in the residence halls on campus pack away their belongings and prepare to move out of their dorms.

Mehul Mehta is a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences. When he moves out of the door, he will be putting all of his belongings in a storage garage for the summer because he will be heading home to Oman, a country on the Arabian Peninsula, east of Saudi Arabia.

“I am not looking forward to moving out,” said Mehta. “I do not like packing up, and I do not like leaving my friends.

Like Mehta, Anthony Teta, an RA for Holly C, is not looking forward to moving out of the dorms for the summer.

“It’s a lot of work for the RA’s, too,” said Teta. “Not only do we have to move ourselves out of our rooms, but we have to make sure all of the residents are moved out on time and correctly.”

While checking residents out of their rooms, RAs have to check for any damage to the rooms, make sure all belongings are gone, fill out paperwork for each room, clean the mail rooms and remove signs and decorations from the floors and halls of their residence hall.

Although the moving out process is tedious, the way USF Housing & Education has developed it has made it simple, said Mehta.

All freshmen are required to live on campus their first year, so most seek housing in off-campus apartments after that. But Mehta said he would return in the fall to live on campus again.

“I like living in the dorms because it’s close to classes,” said Mehta. “I’m excited to move back in with my roommate from this year.”

According to the Housing and Resident Education website, the residence halls close at 5 p.m. on May 7.

Residence halls will reopen at 10 a.m. on May 13 for students attending classes during the Summer A and C sessions. USF Housing is accommodating students who need to stay for the week of break before summer classes begin.

Former RA is Miss USF Runner-Up

When she registered for the pageant the day before applications were due, Lauren Marshall, a former Resident Assistant at the University of South Florida, did not expect to be runner-up for Miss USF 2011.

Marshall had never heard of the contest until her friend, a member of the USF Student Government, suggested she apply.

Marshall had to fill out a written application as well as go through an interview process where she was asked ‘what-if’ scenario questions and questions regarding her life experiences before she was announced as one of the six finalists.

The pageant was held April 7 at 7 p.m. in the Oval Theatre of the USF Marshall Center. A total of 12 contestants competed – six men and six women. The pageant consisted of four competition parts: casual wear, talent, swimsuit and evening wear. Contestants were also judged on poise, school spirit, originality and one interview question.

Marshall was adamant about looking natural; she didn’t wear hairspray, fake eyelashes or heavy makeup like some of the other female contestants. “I wanted to go in being myself,” said Marshall. “I’m not the stereotypical ‘pageant girl,’ and I didn’t want to try to be one just to win.”

The most stressful part about the contest was waiting, said Marshall. Whether she was waiting while other contestants performed or waiting during wardrobe changes, the nerves were unavoidable.

Fortunately, there was a large support group of friends there for her, said Marshall. She created a Facebook event prior to pageant to encourage all of her friends attend the event and support her. She got the idea from another contestant who also made an event on Facebook.

“When they called me for first runner up, I was excited because I didn’t think I would place at all,” said Marshall. “I think I might have come off a little too edgy for the traditional judges.”

Marshall was first runner-up to Miss USF 2011 Samantha Stratton.

Living Green on Campus

As an attempt to enhance the overall experience of living on campus, the University of South Florida offers 10 different Living Learning Communities.

Dr. Robert Brinkmann, a professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Planning, is the advisor for the Green LLC in Maple Hall B.

The Green LLC was developed as part of an outreach of the USF Ad Hoc Sustainability Brinkmann co-chaired a few years ago.

The community offers a variety of different green programs each month such as green composting, workshops and film series.

“The community is in an older building, so what we have done is installed some new things, more specifically worm composting and low-flow showers,” said Brinkmann.

The residents of this hall use the waste that would normally be thrown out as a resource of compost. A request for a grant for a butterfly or vegetable garden outside the building is pending as of now. If the grant is not approved, the waste will be used around campus or will be donated to local botanical gardens.

The Green LLC is one of many ways USF is embracing students’ desires for a more sustainable life. The up-and-coming cafeteria near the Sun Dome will have more organic, fresh foods for students and will accommodate more specific diets.

Thus far, the students seem to be enjoying the USF Learning Living Community and are enthusiastic about their efforts to reduce the campus carbon footprint, according to Brinkmann.

The Green LLC is open to all students who want to live more sustainably and for the same price as a regular dorm.

Residency is based on an application process set by Housing and Residential Education.

The ketchup man in Magnolia B

Students are still talking about the ketchup man in Magnolia B.

Last November Valentina Caceres, first time Resident Assistant at the University of South Florida, got a call from a resident complaining about a strong ketchup-like odor coming from the stairwell in the Magnolia B residence hall.

Upon inspection, Caceres found a homeless ketchup-covered man lying on the landing in the stairwell leading up to the roof.

No one knows how or when he got there.

“He was probably up there for at least two or three days,” said Caceres. “The resident who made the call said it had smelled like that for awhile.”

Caceres suspects the man began living in the stairwell because it was warmer than outside.

She notified the University Police Department of the situation immediately.

“We’re not supposed to put ourselves in any type of danger,” said Caceres.  “We’ve been trained to call the University Police and then call the assistant resident life coordinator or the resident life coordinator on duty.”

After the situation was over, Caceres had to write an incident report on the issue.

The RAs notified students living in the residence halls and advised they keep their doors locked, according to student Danny Shopf who lived in  the Magnolia C dormitory at the time of the incident.

No arrests were made, according to Caceres’ report.

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