Groupon or Advertising? Plus Google?

With Google about to spend $6 billion to buy Groupon it looks like validation of this business model. But, as a local business person, why would you choose to use Groupon in the first place- and will it be a good investment for you?

To understand how Groupon works- it’s a no upfront cost advertising tool. And while that sounds great, The stinger is you are going to get 25% of what you would normally make on a sale. That’s a VERY high cost of advertising. No one would jump into a deal and say spend 75% of your gross price on advertising- in fact, much over 10% and you better be selling things that have crazy markups like booze, diamonds or some professional service (I haven’t hear of a brothel using Groupon yet- but, that’s the kind of business that would do best with this marketing ploy).

The beauty of Groupon is it’s the ultimate sampling/awareness tool. The cost is the killer. Take the local Ben & Jerry’s franchise that offered $8 of ice cream for $4. I give Groupon $4, they give Ben & Jerry’s $2, and Ben & Jerry hope I don’t redeem the coupon (which is the only way they make money- unless they convert the Grouponee into a regular customer). There is also a transaction fee- which further cuts into their margins. So- since we already go to Ben & Jerry’s they just treated us to 1/2 price ice cream. We live nearby. They haven’t grown their market at all. It cost them $6 dollars to sell us $8 of ice cream- and this is a recipe for going out of business.

Now, if B&J had religiously collected emails, sms, and addresses from customers- and built a customer loyalty program- even using tools like Foursquare, they could have made us very happy with a Buy One Get One offer- and only spent 50% of their margins. Or rewarded all frequent customers with 20% off- and been ahead. No payment to Groupon, no mad rush- followed by a lull, and targeting a much more relevant demographic. Because unless you have a lot of locations- Groupon probably over delivers your market as well. While you and I live in an internet connected world, there are a lot of Americans who still by ice cream that don’t live and die by the browser. In fact, 1 in 12 can’t even get access to high speed internet in this country even if they want it.

Groupon doesn’t change one fundamental rule of business- it always costs more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Remember that.

So, when does Groupon make sense? If you have an innovative product that no one else has and you need people to sample it- this works well for professional services, hair, nails- where one fantastic job can convert a customer. It also works to introduce people to your new lasagna pizza (the “Pizzagna” - don’t say it fast) that no one else has.

Launching a brand new company- may also be a great way to minimize your initial customer acquisition time, but at a very low price. Remember, it’s always easier to drop prices than raise them- and your $4 deal on an $8 garbage burger may just end up being the most you can ever expect to charge again.

Doing a little searching- here are some recommendations from another site:

* Do the math and make sure the discount you’re offering won’t damage you financially. Don’t be bullied into offering a steeper discount than you’re comfortable with.

* Are prepared to serve a large influx of new customers; you may even need to hire more staff temporarily. If quality and/or service might suffer with more business, think twice.

* Come up with incentives for those new customers to come back at full price, or offer a more modest discount.

* Understand that many companies use companies like Groupon simply to acquire new customers and are willing to break even or even lose a little money on their offerings.

via Should Your Company Use Groupon to Increase Sales? | BNET.

There are many people who think Google has lost their mind offering $6 billion for Groupon- this writer included. Yes, they gain 3,100 sales people- which Google is desperately in need of, but, almost anyone can build the Groupon model into their business with minimal effort. This type of deal brokering has been done by others - here’s a link to 50 Groupon like sites.

There are a lot of out of work radio, TV and newspaper account executives that Google could hire and train for a lot less than $6 billion. As it is, Google is already the leader in directing customers to business online- but, does an absolutely horrible job of teaching people how to use it’s tools effectively. Sometimes technology still doesn’t beat personal, face-to-face sales. Every city should have a Google office- just like Apple has rolled out their Apple stores- where Google can show off it’s technology, train people to use it properly- and build real relationships based on trust. Somehow, with Groupon’s huge windfall- along with their high costs, I can’t see this model staying viable for more than a flash in a pan.

If you need to devise better ways to reach new customers, look into CRM, talk to a company like The Next Wave (us) on how to market in the digital world, but, be very careful before committing to Groupon.