Monday, March 21, 2011

I Join Groupon- Initial Impressions

I wrote this recent post concerning Groupon. In it, I mused,

"What struck me about this was just how low the barriers to entry may well be in this product/market. I hadn't really given the business a whole lot of thought until I read this piece. Frankly, it just seems to be a tactic- couponing- that no business can afford to do too much of, without suffering serious pricing policy challenges for the long term. There's something about teaching customers to expect discounts that becomes corrosive over time."

In order to learn more about  the company and its activities, and hopefully score half-price tickets to the recently-released movie The Lincoln Lawyer, I joined Groupon last week.

Overall, I've been very underwhelmed and unimpressed. I honestly can't quite figure out what all the fuss is about- for me, at least.

First, I never saw an offer for the movie. Despite being featured in the Wall Street Journal's March 16th edition, the offer never made it to my Groupon account. That's annoying to start with. Perhaps it was sold out instantly. But customer experiences like that only serve to leave a negative impression with potential buyers.

What I have seen isn't particularly earthshaking. The initial coupon was for half off on a dinner at a localish upscale French restaurant. It's disappeared, so it likely either expired or sold out. Upon closely reading the offer, the fine print was less than entirely clear. There were some weird blackout dates, a host of restrictions on how many of the coupons could be used per table, per person, etc. The term to fulfill the offer was, I believe, throughout the summer. However, it called to mind an old marketing aphorism that goes something like this,

'A coupon for something you weren't already planning to buy is no deal and saves you no money.'

In the case of the restaurant in question, while I'm aware of it, I haven't ever actually dined there. Given the circumstances under which I would use the coupon, it's not clear I know anyone who would actually prefer to dine there. So a coupon for a half-price dinner- or maybe two, it wasn't really clear- was of limited value to me.

As I scan the available deals on this Sunday afternoon, while composing this post, I see offers for Persian rugs, Lasik eye surgery, Yoga sessions, and facials. There's another restaurant deal, window treatments, door locks and bar glassware.

Frankly, none of it is compelling to me. And I've provided Groupon with more personal details in order for them to presumably target more appropriate offers to me.

It reminds me a lot of when I used to shop on eBay. If you find what you're looking for, great. If not, you're out of luck. The sort of shopping Groupon, like eBay, provides, is a sort of stream of offers which move past you. Online impulse shopping.

I could see people finding, on reflection and analysis, that they'd spent way more than they realized on unnecessary goods and services because they got caught up in the timed, networked nature of the deal excitement.

For the businesses, it seems to me to be either too small a reach to be very effective or, if it's sufficiently large to be so, then it's really expensive. And it does things like teaches people to refuse to pay full price at a restaurant, waiting, instead, for a Groupon deal.

Is Groupon more exciting than getting a Val-Pak in the mail bulging with coupons? Sure.

Is Groupon actually a significantly better, more efficient way for consumers to use coupons? I'm not sure yet. So far, I'd say no.

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