Rewriting the Story at Groupon

The old story of daily deals is hard to shake

Author: Andria Cheng

May 3, 2017

Groupon CEO Rich Williams wants to change the storyline about his company.

“Groupon is a well-known brand, but it hasn’t been historically a well-understood brand relative to how we’ve changed the actual business and experience,” he said as the company announced disappointing first-quarter sales. “In many consumers’ minds, we are still that daily deal email company.”

The glory days of the daily deal sites are long gone. Groupon is seeking to redefine itself, expanding to become an online marketplace while offering access to local businesses. It’s also working with Visa to promote card-linked reward offers. To change its image as a daily deals site, this year it unveiled TV commercials under the tagline, “Save up to $100 a week on what you do every day,” ads that it said are aimed at “working millennials and traditional power users.”

It also has significantly shrunk its footprint to 15 countries from nearly 50 as part of an effort to reduce costs and return to profit.

“Redesigning a business already operating at scale will take time,” the CEO said.

Scale indeed: Groupon, despite its challenges, ranked as the No. 8 pure-play online retailer in 2016, after giants such as Amazon, eBay and Apple, Euromonitor data showed. Its total North America active customer count totaled 31.6 million at the end of Q1. The company, citing comScore data, said its mobile app trails only Amazon Mobile in terms of unique visitors, beating Walmart and eBay.

Verto Analytics data for November 2016 showed Groupon had 67.8 million unique users, outranked among ecommerce platforms only by Amazon, Walmart, eBay and Apple.

But the jury is out on whether Williams’s bid to make Groupon part of consumers’ “daily habit in local commerce” will work. Total worldwide Q1 2017 gross billings fell 1% to $1.36 billion in Q1. North American local billings rose 9% as the company increased promotions.

It also remains unknown whether TV and other marketing spending will translate to a consistent increase in customer counts, and whether those customers will increase their rate of purchases.

“Consumers’ habitual excitement about being on these sites early wears off,” said Matthew Quint, director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School, in an interview.

And as the economy improves, Quint said, Groupon and other sites that rose in popularity during the Great Recession have lost some of their appeal. Making the challenge for deal sites even tougher is the increasing perception among consumers that general retail sites, Amazon in particular, offer good deals regularly on a broad variety of products, without the need to hunt for special offers.

Meanwhile, Groupon still needs to build relationship with “high-value” and coveted sellers and small and medium sized merchants, he said, adding that many don’t see the same value in selling on sites like Groupon.

Retailers’ increasingly sophisticated loyalty programs present yet another challenge for Groupon, he said.

“Everyone is involved in their personal loyalty program, which can detract from the need to go to some centralized site like Groupon,” he said.