Archive for June 9th, 2011

Article from SFGate.

“The lofty language in Groupon’s initial public offering filing is prompting comparisons to Google’s highly anticipated premier seven years ago, as are the lofty valuations.

Various sources have pegged Groupon’s implied worth at $20 billion to $30 billion, dropping it squarely in the neighborhood of Google’s $27 billion at the time of its 2004 IPO.

Groupon is a fast-growing business, luring 83 million subscribers to its daily deal e-mails in 2 1/2 years. And it might end up a perfectly solid one. But for one simple reason and a lot of complicated ones, Groupon is no Google.

Here’s the simple one: Google reinvented an industry. Groupon tweaked one.

There are limits on how transformative a force the Chicago company can ever be, at least pursuing its current business model.


Strip away all the hope and hype surrounding Groupon and you’re left with this: It’s a coupon company. Its major innovation was to distribute them through e-mail instead of the Sunday paper.

Granted, Groupon does this very well, with a colorful corporate culture that has deservedly won it plenty of fans and attention. Andrew Mason is one of the most refreshing, entertaining and straightforward CEOs in the last decade. His letter in the IPO filing last week carried loud echoes of the “Don’t Be Evil” sentiment in Google’s S-1.

“We want the time people spend with Groupon to be memorable,” he wrote. “Life is too short to be a boring company.”

He added that the business is “better positioned than any company in history to reshape local commerce.”

But coupons have long had limited appeal among retailers and consumers for very specific reasons, and thus restricted sway over the larger retail market.

Small fraction used

In 2010, marketers distributed $485 billion worth of consumer packaged goods coupons, according to a report by NCH Marketing Services. But only about 1 percent of coupons are actually redeemed.

Everyone will occasionally take advantage of a deal that lands in their lap (or inbox), or wait for a sale on a high-priced item. But it’s a limited subset of people who routinely start their shopping by thinking, what can I buy, do or eat that’s on sale. Most people, most of the time know the brand, model or service they want and go from there. There’s no particularly compelling evidence that this is changing.

Here then is a key difference with Google: Thanks to the query you enter into its search engine, Google knows what you’re interested in at the precise point you’re ready to buy, and serves up ads to match.

Even its worst critics acknowledge this revolutionized advertising, bringing to the marketplace a level of scale and targeting never before seen. It unleashed a tectonic shift in how businesses spent their marketing dollars.

Since then, the Internet giant has plowed its huge profits into cutting edge research and development, pushing ahead the fields of information retrieval, language translation, image recognition, satellite imagery, self-driving cars and much, much more. There’s simply an order of magnitude difference in the respective levels of imagination and innovation on display at the two companies.

Reticent retailers

Groupon does remove some of the traditional friction surrounding discounts, by directly delivering deals that are increasingly personalized, while also – not incidentally – eliminating the stigma and hassle of clipping coupons. But the real sandpaper remains on the retail side.

Coupons are typically loss leaders, the discount a business is willing to swallow in order to get new customers in the door. By definition, such marketing tactics can only ever represent a sliver of the retail pie.”

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