Imagine you’re a small business owner. You have to choose between two propositions:
- You can pay $62,500 for marketing. You’ll get a whole lot of customers coming through your door. No guarantees if they will ever come back, but they’ll come once.
- I’ll pay you $21,000. You get $7,000 in about 5 days, another $7,000 in 30 days and the remainder in 60 days. In exchange, you’ll give my customers cheap products for the next year.
I’ve been working on local for a long time and I know it’s hard to get small businesses to spend money on advertising. Really hard. Even getting $200 a month ($2,400 a year) is a high hurdle to meet.
There’s no way a business will sign up for #1. Most merchants would laugh you out of the store if you asked for $60,000.
Except they are. In droves.
Although they sound completely different, #1 and #2 are really the same—it’s the Groupon business model.
Businesses are being sold incredibly expensive advertising campaigns that are disguised as “no risk” ways to acquire new customers. In reality, there’s a lot of risk. With a newspaper ad, the maximum you can lose is the amount you paid for the ad. With Groupon, your potential losses can increase with every Groupon customer who walks through the door and put the existence of your business at risk.
Groupon is not an Internet marketing business so much as it is the equivalent of a loan sharking business. The $21,000 that the business in this example gets for running a Groupon is essentially a very, very expensive loan. They get the cash up front, but pay for it with deep discounts over time. (This post applies to Groupon operations in the United States and Canada; it’s different in other parts of the world.)
In many cases, running a Groupon can be a terrible financial decision for merchants. Groupon’s financials also raise questions about its ongoing viability. Buying Groupon stock could be as bad a deal for investors as running a Groupon offer is for merchants. This is my opinion, but I have some facts to back it up.