Monday, April 02, 2012

Topsy Turvy Offer World

As I have been in the local offers business for a couple of years, I was surprised today by two radical changes in the offer landscape.

First, a while ago, Google got into the local offers game. Unlike others there, they took a "customer-forward" look, offering generous refund terms for customers and promising to use the wealth of data that they have to ensure the offers were relevant, high-quality, and good. They started off with a bang, with great offers from local and national businesses that have been stalwarts in the community. Unfortunately, that honeymoon seems to have worn off.

Now, I can overlook the "filler" type offers that have come through lately (photo collages, etc.), but there is one that shows Google is right among the same low quality offers that seem to be plaguing daily deal sites these days that have no other business with the merchants: Maid 4 Hire. On the surface, looks like a good deal: $149 for 3 2-hour cleanings of your home. In fact, if you click through to the Google Place page, there's nothing obviously bad here. Now, take a look on Yelp: note the poor rating, but specifically the reviews: they point out that the same deal has run on Living Social, Groupon, Pinchit and more, all with horror stories of how unresponsive the company is, especially with deals like this.

So, Google is offering an offer that has been offered on umpteen other sites, with poor feedback. Bad enough. I know Google has been forced to remove snippets of reviews on it's Places pages by folks like Yelp, but a simple Google Search would have turned up the horrible customer experiences: by offering this deal, Google is turning it's back on "Don't Be Evil."

The second, and I hope it's an April Fool's joke, is the noted and very vocal Groupon critic Rocky Agarwal, after literally months of utter blasting of Groupon, in an extremely public fashion, reversed course in the most amazing way: he announced today he's joining Groupon. Knowing how merciless Rocky has been in his critique, I am definitely leaning towards that this is a great April Fool's joke (his commenters seem to agree), but if not...wow.

Like me, Rocky seems a fanboy of Virgin America, and they seem to escape his wrath, so you can see he can bring as much positive as negative: it's not, therefore, a great leap to seeing him switch around his position on Groupon if it provided a great benefit/challenge. But wow, what a change that would be. Say it ain't so, Rocky? You are a great ray of perspective on this vertical, and although I may not always agree with you, I always respect your opinion, and you are often dead-on. I'd hate to see that voice quelled.

This space continues to evolve. I maintain that, outside of Living Social and Groupon, the only ones who have long term success probabilities are the media properties who have spent millions developing their customers, and have a loyal customer following, with businesses that would not want to risk their long-standing advertising relationships with such great brands by offering a fly-by-night deal. The consumer will win, in the long run, as long as we don't get whiplash from these bumps in the road. 

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