July 30, 2010

Groupon personalizes the daily deal

Filed under: advertising, local search, marketing — Rakesh Agrawal @ 12:10 pm

Groupon announced a shift from its approach of the same deal for all email subscribers in a market to personalized deals in select cities. CEO Andrew Mason says that there is a backlog of 35,000 businesses waiting to be featured on Groupon and that 7 businesses are turned away for each that is featured.

Offering more deals makes sense for Groupon, for consumers and for businesses. It will lead to higher engagement among consumers, more revenue for Groupon and better results for businesses:

  • Higher engagement. As the novelty of the daily deal wears off, email open rates will decline. In my own usage, I’ve found that many businesses featured are outside the area that I’m willing to travel. If I know that deals are more local and more relevant, I’ll be more likely to open the email.
  • More revenue. Having multiple deals allows Groupon to capture revenue from more people because deals will be more relevant. The user data collected will also help with getting businesses on board — sales people will be able to say we have X thousand customers within a few miles of your business.
  • Better results for businesses. One of the concerns that small businesses have with offering big deals is attracting only deal chasers. The ideal customer is someone who will convert into a regular and pay full price. Someone who is willing to drive 30 miles to save $10 will likely have a low or negative lifetime value.

Mason says the first cut of personalization will be dumb, using limited data such as ZIP code, gender and age. While location is important, it does come with a couple of caveats:

  • Location is often directional. People living in Manhattan are much less likely to go to New Jersey for a deal than the reverse.
  • Its importance varies by business. People will travel farther to go skydiving than for a restaurant or bakery.

I’m not as convinced on using gender, age or other factors to target deals. Many of the deals have wide appeal and part of the value of products like Groupon is their serendipity.

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July 29, 2010

Why small businesses are snapping up the daily deal

Filed under: advertising, google, local search, marketing, yelp — Rakesh Agrawal @ 1:05 pm

A sample daily deal from Living Social.

In recent months, we’ve seen daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social grow like crazy. Groupon is valued at $1.35 billion. That’s more than 4x the valuation of the McClatchy Company, one of the country’s largest newspaper publishers. It also ekes out The New York Times Company. Others are scrambling to get into the business, including DealPop in Seattle and CrowdCut in Minneapolis. Yelp is also testing its own entry in Sacramento.

A while back, I wrote about why small businesses were reluctant to get online. So what changed?

Well, the daily deal providers addressed most of the challenges I laid out.

  • No one was asking them to get online; now they are. Groupon, Living Social and others are rapidly building up local sales forces to approach small businesses.
  • It’s a lot simpler. Bidding on keywords is beyond the experience level and time commitment most small businesses can afford. Putting together a special offer is much simpler and the daily deal sites are doing a lot of hand holding. Even Google has realized this, with simplified pricing for its Google Tags product aimed at small businesses.
  • There’s no upfront commitment required. Unlike most advertising products, businesses don’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on an ad and pray that it works. Instead, they get paid for the deals sold before they’re actually redeemed.
  • Results are evident and compelling. Businesses can clearly see how many people are buying their deals in real time. They can also see customers as they walk through the door with the coupons. It’s a lot more trackable than other forms of advertising.

On the consumer side, the daily deal sites have turned coupons from something that were looked down on to a fun, social thing. Friends who wouldn’t use coupons in the past are touting the great deals they’ve found online.

A big challenge for providers will be providing enough new businesses to keep the deals interesting. Many of the deals I see these days are too far to drive to; a metro area is too large a geography. As the novelty of the daily deal wears off, deals will have to be more targeted based on location to avoid becoming perceived as spam.

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July 4, 2010

United’s mobile check in not ready for takeoff

Filed under: advertising, airlines, customer service, mobile, ui, wireless — Tags: — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:00 am

On my last trip, I had the opportunity to try United’s mobile check-in and mobile boarding passes. The promise is paper-free check in. It sounds really great, but it’s not quite there. Partly it’s due to United’s horrible user interface, partly the newness that gate agents aren’t accustomed to it.

The user interface rarely misses an opportunity to add extra steps.

  • When online check-in opens up, United sends you an email reminding you to check in. But clicking on the link in the email takes you to the full browser version. (It should automatically redirect you to the corresponding page on the mobile site if you’re on a mobile browser.)
  • When you go to, you have to enter your confirmation number (who remembers these?), e-ticket number (ditto), Mileage Plus number (I don’t remember it despite being a top tier flier for years) or email address (long to type). There’s no way to just cookie your email address or MP number for all future check ins.
  • You’re presented with upsells, including the ridiculously overpriced Award Accelerator. (No way to say “I never ever want this.”)
  • After you finally check in, you’d think you get a boarding pass. But now you have to enter an email address to send the boarding pass to. (Never mind that you just logged into your account with an email address; it’s not prepopulated.)
  • You’d think, “OK, now, I’ll get an email with the boarding pass.” Nope. You get an email for each segment. Neither of which contains a boarding pass, but a link to a boarding pass.
  • Instead of using one link tied to your record, there is a link for each flight. If you click on the email for the wrong flight, you can’t just flip to the other flight. You have to go back and open a different email.
  • When you finally get to the boarding pass, you see a 2D bar code read by the scanner, along with your flight and seat information in text.

After doing all of this, I went to the airport without any paper. First step: security. The TSA agent looks at my ID and phone to compare names. He then has me hold my phone over a reader. It beeps and lights up in green. Good to go. At the gate, I hold my phone over the reader. Beep. Green. Board.

At the gate for my connection in Denver, I get paged because the agent wanted me to swap seats with someone else. She asks for my boarding pass. When I say I’ve got a mobile one, she prints out a boarding pass with a new seat assignment. Being a geek, I refresh the screen and see that it shows the new seat and ditch the paper. Unfortunately it doesn’t scan and she has to board me manually.

Leaving SFO, I had to standby for an earlier flight because of weather. Although the boarding pass initially showed my standby status, somewhere along the way that disappeared. (Causing me to panic and race to the big screens in the gate area to verify that I was still on the list.) When I cleared standby, the agent called me up and issued a paper boarding pass. The link I had showed no boarding pass.

In a future ideal world, my phone would beep when I cleared the standby list, I’d click to accept and the screen would show the updated boarding pass. It would free up the mob around the gate, let me get a drink or food and get the plane out faster.

In Denver, my original mobile boarding pass was still valid. It took some fiddling to get it to scan. I thought 2-D bar codes could be held in any direction, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Note that although the boarding pass is generated dynamically, the information is static. If your flight is delayed, you won’t see that reflected. You’ll have to go back to and enter your flight information. It also self destructs after a flight, so if you need documentation for business purposes or making sure you get your frequent flier miles, you might want to stick with paper. (In theory, it shouldn’t be needed for miles purposes, but I don’t like to rely on theory when it comes to airlines.)

More on: airlines

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