Every year some online concept seems to catch on with users, commentators and venture capitalists alike. This year’s hot concept is the “deal of the day” pioneered by Groupon. The daily deal is a deeply discounted product promotion available for one day only. Groupon features the deal on its web site and blasts emails to users who have opted in. It can provide substantial exposure to a marketer or product, although it doesn’t necessarily pay for itself. Is Groupon (or one of its many imitators) right for your business and its products? As usual, it depends.
The marketing psychology behind Groupon’s deals is simple: an ultra-low price to stimulate interest plus very brief availability to stimulate action. You’ve seen the same thing on direct response infomercials on late night TV. But those infomercials work. And so, at least to some extent, do Groupon’s deals.
The New York Times business blog “You’re The Boss” recently analyzed the math behind a typical Groupon deal. Separately, a team at Rice University studied how satisfied merchants were with their Groupon experience, and how likely they would be to use a Groupon deal again.
In the Times article the bottom line was whether it cost more to acquire net new customers via the Groupon promotion or through conventional channels. That like a perfectly reasonable metric, although perhaps not the only relevant one. In the Times’ example the hypothetical business spent about the same to acquire net new customers through the promotion as through other channels, which made the promotion a wash, but the author pointed out that even small changes to the many variables could alter the result significantly.
That’s important because the Times example described more than a dozen different variables, from the the percentage of coupons redeemed to the percentage of redeeming customers who were not previously customers of the merchant. Depending on these variables a Groupon program could be anything between a home run and a disaster.
But running the numbers is not the only way to decide whether a deal of the day makes sense. The Rice University study led by Professor Utpal M. Dholakia (full pdf available here) reported a wide range of views from merchants concerning their satisfaction with the Groupon promotion and the likelihood of their using Groupon again. The three key predictors of repeating a Groupon promotion were
- Effectiveness in reaching new customers
- Percentage of Groupon users buying more than its value during the visit
- Employee satisfaction with the Groupon promotion
In other words, the promotion would be considered less than successful if it promoted trial but did not produce net new repeat business; did not result in substantial on-premises upsell of Groupon users; and did not satisfactorily account for reductions in commissions and tips. Merchants reported that unless these factors were present they would not be inclined to repeat a Groupon promotion even if their promotion had been profitable:
There is widespread recognition among many business owners that social promotion users are not the relational customers that they had hoped for or the ones that are necessary for their business’ long-term success. Instead, there is disillusionment with the extreme price sensitive nature and transactional orientation of these consumers among many study respondents.
Is Groupon too much of a good thing? The suggestion in the Rice study that Groupon shoppers are qualitatively different from ordinary shoppers would be troubling if true. This would suggest that consumers who are highly motivated by the brief availability of an extreme price reduction are not willing or able to see beyond the deal and are not particularly open to learning about the merchant or her (non-discounted) products.
Are there any benefits to a tool that brings traffic but maybe not genuine trial? It depends on the business. A retailer that does better when the store is full (e.g., because of a social element to the brand) may be able to leverage the traffic Groupon can bring. A restaurant that cannot adequately service a Groupon-driven wave of first-time customers (who may not be the best tippers) is likely to have an unsatisfactory experience regardless of the numbers. The key is to understand the process, understand the numbers and have realistic expectations.
The Zavee takeaway:
- Groupon isn’t as much about promoting trial of your product as it is generating buzz about your brand.
- For the right business, Groupon can result in incremental sales to one-time customers and an acceptable level of new customers, all without upsetting and under-compensating your staff. But it doesn’t seem to happen very often.
- Brands aren’t built with magic bullets. Surprise and delight your customers, reward their continued loyalty, and make it easy for them to share their experiences.