5 Tips for Group Deals Success

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum and also on Mashable.com.

While many small business owners have considered offering a group deal, only 10% have actually run one, according to recent research from MerchantCircle. And while the results have been promising for these early adopters — and 77% say they would run another one — group deals don’t work for everyone. Among the people who said they wouldn’t offer another deal, 42% said it was not effective in customer acquisition, and 24% said they lost money.

Given these mixed results, it is critical that entrepreneurs do their homework before embarking on a group deal to make sure they’re positioned for success.

Here are five tips to help you get the best results:

1. Shop Around

While Groupon and LivingSocial may be the most well-known group deal services, there are now a wide range of services to choose from. Yelp, Facebook and Google have all tossed their hat in the ring, as have a number of daily newspapers and newsletter services.

While all can get your business in front of consumers who’ve expressed an interest in daily deals, these services “can vary widely when it comes to terms and conditions,” says Brent Harrison of marketing consulting firm SmokeJumper Strategy, who has tested out more than a half dozen group deals services for his Mountain View, Calif., wine bar and shop Savvy Cellar.

For example, Harrison notes that “with Groupon you’ll get the biggest volume, but also the least attractive economics and control. Groupon typically wants a higher share of the deal price, and they also spread out payments to the merchant over a period of months.”

Another issue related to volume is audience targeting. “With a high-volume provider, you’re essentially deep-sea fishing with a driftnet: You want the valuable salmon, but you’re going to get all sorts of less attractive life forms while you’re at it,” adds Harrison. While high-volume services may be a good fit for larger, more established businesses, he suggests that new or niche businesses test out a few smaller, more targeted services to see which one brings in the right clientele.

The good news is that there are many vertical and niche deals sites to choose from. There’s Daily Gourmet for foodies. There’s Yuupon and TripAlertz for travel. There’s even a deals site for dog owners called “Doggyloot.” There are also business-to-business deals site such as RapidBuyr. Before choosing the first vendor that calls you, do some research into which ones offer the right terms and audience for your business.

2. Put Time Constraints on Your Deal to Manage Demand

With most group deals services, you won’t have much control over the timing of when your deal hits — this can make it difficult to service the increased demand and could lead to bad reviews from new customers and existing patrons alike.

“People who redeem your offer are likely to follow your usual traffic patterns and come in when you’re already at peak capacity,” notes Harrison. “At Savvy Cellar, I’m typically looking to fill in the downtime such as Tuesday evening, but without constraints on my deal, I know that most people will come in Friday or Saturday night, which could put a strain on my operations.”

For this reason, Harrison recommends putting time constraints on your deal when possible. “Think about making your offer valid Monday through Thursday, or running a special event on a specific day with a limited number of spaces available,” he suggests. You can also set up your deal so that the value of the discount is greater on your slowest days or during off-peak times. If your business has significant seasonality, try just running deals during your slowest months.

Some group deals services are actually beginning to give merchants more flexibility and control over when volume comes in, so it’s something to ask about when choosing a vendor. For example, Groupon recently launched a “Groupon Now” product that lets you put out more modest deals around a certain item or timeframe.

3. Understand the Costs

In many cases, group deals don’t result in an immediate profit and may even result in a net cost to the business. Make sure you’ve done the math ahead of time to minimize costly surprises.

Here’s the basic formula: your group deal needs to be offered at a steep discount to the regular price — let’s say somewhere around 50%. You will then need to share revenue from the deal with your service provider, at rates as high as 50% or more. So if your spa is offering a $200 service for $100, and you have to pay $50 of that to your service provider, you’ll end up with $50 for your $200 service. If it costs you more than $50 to provide the service, you’ll actually lose money on the deal — and the better the deal does, the more it will cost you.

Even if you do make a profit, if your business has a limit on capacity (such as a restaurant or a spa), deal seekers may be edging out regular customers who would have paid full price.

But there are other ways to benefit from a group deal besides an immediate profit. A successful group deal brings new customers in the door and gives them a taste of your business. There are up-sell opportunities once they’re in your shop. Plus, your company’s name gets in front of thousands of local consumers through the service providers’ marketing of your deal.

4. Make the Most of the First Customer Visit

Given the economics of group deals, there’s a lot riding on getting new customers to spend beyond the initial deal, but according to recent Rice University study, less than 20% of deal users return again to make a full-price purchase. In order to improve these odds, it is essential to make the most of each new customer visit.

This means that in addition to making sure you have enough capacity to serve both new and existing patrons, you should also think about developing special up-sells for people who redeem your coupon. For example, a dentist could offer new customers $5 off a Sonicare toothbrush at the end of their appointment, or a yoga studio could offer a discount for new patrons who book a series of sessions before leaving the studio.

Also make sure to capture people’s information when they redeem their coupon so you can continue to stay in touch with them. Have a sign-up sheet at the check-out counter for people to register for your email newsletter, encourage people to “check in” at your establishment on Facebook Places or Foursquare, and let them know how to follow you on Facebook or Twitter.

5. Measure ROI

If you don’t make an immediate profit on your deal, how can you determine if it was a success and thus worth doing again? David Rangel, former Head of Merchant Services at Groupon and founder of gourmet food e-commerce and deals site Daily Gourmet, recommends that you build these basic considerations into your ROI calculation:

  • How many buyers are new customers? While it may be easier for some businesses such as dentists or spas to identify new customers than others (such as a restaurant), try to figure out which people redeeming your coupon are visiting you for the first time — it may be as simple as asking this question each time the coupon is presented.
  • How many new customers came back, and how much did they spend? Rangel recommends capturing information on each new customer in a database if possible and tracking their ongoing patronage and spending over time.
  • How much money was spent above the voucher amount? Rice University found that 36% of deals customers spend more than the voucher value when visiting a merchant. Rangel suggests that you actually structure your deals to encourage this additional spend; for example, a restaurant whose average bill is $50 could issue vouchers with a value of $35 to $40.
  • How many coupons or vouchers were not redeemed? Not everyone who pays for your deal will end up redeeming it — the Rice study found that average coupon “breakage” is about 22%. Depending on the laws of the state and how your service provider structures the deal, you may be able to keep this money without ever delivering goods or services.

Have you offered a group deal? What was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

How to Build a Facebook Landing Page with iFrames

We have had inquiries about how to create a Facebook landing page for your daily deal program. There are some great resources out there that offer information about how to do this. Please take a look at the following blog to learn how to create a Facebook landing page:



The Truth Behind Daily Deal Scripts and Groupon Clones

While technology is an important piece of your daily deal site, there are several other integral pieces needed to run a successful program.  Too often, entrepreneurs and publishers alike choose to go the route of a “clone” or “script,” mainly due to their low-cost set up.  Unfortunately, the real cost involved in turning a simple script into a profitable business are almost always astronomical, and guaranteed to be more than expected.  Read on to find out the common issues with scripts and clones and how they inevitably drive up operational cost.

1.) Development needs: There’s a common misnomer that all group-buying software will work flawlessly and is easy to manage.  As we’ve seen time and time again, this isn’t the case.  In almost every case, an on-staff developer is needed to bring that technology up to speed, build out additional features, implement the script, and do testing with multiple scenarios.

As technology evolves quickly, browser updates, flash and java updates, and other seemingly minor changes can all affect the functionality of your program.  A reliable and experienced developer is needed to write code and update the script as necessary, to make sure the site’s down time is minimal.

In addition to these basic development needs, the overall reliability of scripts and clones is questionable, including the email delivery automation and integration, effectively putting at risk a program’s entire distribution.

2.) End-user customer service/support staffing needs: While some providers do offer client support, via email or phone, a support staff to handle incoming customer questions and concerns is essential to any program.  Refunds, technology issues, and other customer inquiries are inevitable and a proficient staff well-versed in the deal space is necessary.

3.) Accounting staff needs: Each merchant who runs an offer needs to be paid in full, while accounting for any and all adjustments that take place.  This requires Accounting to cross-reference Customer Service, in order to deliver a reconciliation report for each merchant.  Offering more than one deal each day doubles this work, creating a cumbersome process as a program grows.

4.) Merchant Accounts: Handling transactions requires getting approved for a merchant account through a reputable online processor gateway.  The costs associated with this approval and merchant account maintenance will vary.  Additionally, chargebacks for small businesses can be excessive and are difficult to track across multiple merchants.

5.) Manual Affiliate Marketing: As most systems do not allow for affiliate/charity purchase tracking, working with affiliates is a manual and time-intensive option.  As affiliates have been seen to drive over 30% of a successful program’s revenue, this is a marketing method that shouldn’t be ignored.

6.) Minimal back office functionality: Without reporting capabilities, it’s impossible to use buying patterns and customer trends to improve purchase conversion ratio and program quality.

7.) Zero guidance, advice, or industry knowledge: Running a successful business has less to do with technology and functionality and more to do with a comprehensive understanding of the space, a solid growth strategy, and expertise in marketing and sales.  No matter how functional the software, it can take months and months of trial-and-error to understand how to run a successful program.

The group-buying space is one of the fastest changing industries in history; keeping up with industry knowledge and market trends is critical for the longevity of any program.

8.) No scalability: As a program grows its revenue and grows into new markets, staffing needs will increase proportionately.  More business means more customer support staff, more technology and accounting issues, and more overhead, reducing overall profitability.

The real opportunity cost involved with a script involves more than just the financial cost of staffing for support, accounting, technology, market research, etc.  In actuality, the time spent to sort out best practices in each of these areas is time lost focusing on the two areas that actually affect the success of your program: sales and marketing.

Nearly everything aside from the execution of sales and marketing (scheduling quality deals and building a quality opt-in list,) are those that require expertise and accuracy.  Access to a team that can manage the minutiae and back-office requirements provides the time and effort needed to excel in sales and marketing.

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