When you compare products on a store shelf or while internet shopping it's pretty easy to compare apples to apples. You see the same exact item selling at a wide range of prices. You can shop around for the best price because you are fairly confident that the product listed is the same product everyone else has. Retailers can provide this discount because they receive the product for less, can make up for the lost revenue somewhere else, or because, let's be honest, it's usually just a few bucks and you'll remember your deal and come back in the future.
But deeply discounted deals such as Groupon should be suspect when offered for specific services, such as kayak outfitters. Why? All outfitters have the same overhead costs. We all have staff to hire, vans to gas, boats to fix, and lights to keep on. For an outfitter to be able to offer 50% off of a trip on a regular basis they are cutting something out, plain and simple. The question on your mind should be; What am I giving up for my discount?
Sometimes it's trip length. Some outfitters may call a trip by the same name, such as with our Sea Caves Half-Day Kayak trip, but they cut the distance short, and so you see less caves, or get less training. They then turn around and send out more shortened trips in order to make up for the money your discount cost them.
There are also outfitters that disregard safety by sending out large groups with too few guides, or who send guides out without proper training such as basic first aid or rescue training. I have even seen guides from another outfitter getting high or drunk prior to leading their trip. Unscrupulous businesses won't tell you that they these things are happening, so how can you know who to trust?
First, don't use an outfitter who offers deep discounts for nothing in return. We offer discounts when it is an equal exchange, such as when you bring a large group or for provide your own equipment. If there is no exchange, but you are offered a deep discount, something is wrong.
Second, don't ask the outfitter. We often get calls asking us "So how are you different than the other outfitters?" My answer is to look at our safety record, and at our reviews. For safety records you can contact the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. See what they have to say. You may also want to contact the local Chamber of Commerce, since they get the complaints. But be thorough, all businesses are supposed to be given equal listing so you need to ask if there have been complaints about a specific outfitter. For reviews the best industry-specific website seems to be Trip Advisor, because they do the best job at making sure that a review is legitimate. Yelp is also good and geared towards the service industry. If a service business doesn't have a TripAdvisor or Yelp listing they are most likely hiding something. Also, always look at the poor reviews (Every outfitter has some) and read the response from the management.
Hopefully I've explained why a deeply discounted trip should be suspect, and better yet, some ways that you can better see the value of the service you are thinking about using. In the end it's not about the discount, but what you are getting. You can't return a bad experience!