Group Buying fortunes on the up?

After bottoming out during the past few months, the fortunes of some Group Buying businesses seem to be on the up, albeit a significant number have collapsed or been acquired in the past six months and the outlook remains grave for many more!

The fact that the sector’s nose is slightly up is in part due to the weeding out of weaker and often less scrupulous competitors who often served only to undermine the reputation of the sector as a whole.

In fact out of the 50 largest Group Buying businesses assessed in April, only 29 remain intact just 6 months on. And given only 10% (5) of those businesses were acquired that supports the view that smaller Group Buying businesses are of limited real value. In such a crowded and undifferentiated market lifesaving investment is tricky too given a lack of brand equity, good will or asset strength (off the shelf web sites are common and subscriber base overlap with top-tier competitors is often well over 70%) resulting in the collapse of underperforming and debt laden Group Buying businesses.

A quick browse through the sites of the 29 still standing uncovered indicators of pending doom for some.

Here are the choking canaries of the Group Buying world:

  • A high degree of niche product deals, such as robotic vacuum cleaners or iPad accessories
  • No sign of “number purchased”, an essential component of Group Buying that is quickly discarded when numbers are low
  • Extended Deal deadlines, this industry was founded on deal a day for good reason!
  • A smorgasbord of deals on one page, suggesting desperate recycling of old offers

Group Buying remains a $1bn future industry in Australia, regardless if that industry seemed to lose its way and stall when it was only half way there. Regaining lost momentum will be down to the leading players showing the way once again with a combination of brilliant marketing and a commitment to helping consumers discover great business products.

The strongest already have their playbook (Living Social, Cudo and Ourdeal) and will extend their positions in the coming 6 months through a focus on back-to-basics Group Buying offers like quality restaurants, high value vacation offers and utility products such as Cudo’s Meat Merchant.

Although I suspect another 15 from April’s top 50 will be gone by April 2013, leaving only a dozen or so standing, I think I already know who they are, I wonder if they do?

Profiting from the fundamentals of Group Buying: part 2… Fleeting

It is common for consumers to react negatively to a deep discount where they don’t understand the reason for the sale. Often customers will assume there is a hidden catch, something they can’t see that others can, reasons they will look foolish and regret the purchase – in each case they will walk away from a discount rather than risk being exposed… to prevent these barriers emerging is it critical that consumers are provided with a sound rationale for the sale. This is a fundamental principle behind Group Buying, providing sound explanations for the discount, i.e. group discount, time limited offer, discount in exchange for promotion etc.

Consumers are a savvy bunch, without a clear explanation for the discount, the customer will assume there is a catch and walk away.

imageThe second mechanism employed in Group Buying to illicit maximum discounts from Merchants (and ensure impulse behaviour from consumers) is by making the offer “Fleeting”, i.e. limiting the time an offer is available in order to drive customer action through our basic fear of missing out!image

“Fleeting” is a critical function of Group Buying and Flash Sale sites and is incredibly effective at driving action. Fleeting is also used to great effect in the real world through “stock take sale”, “this weekend only” and “closing down sale”.

By time-limiting offers and proving game mechanics to generate excitement and drive action a lift in sales is guaranteed.

Much like the other tactics covered here, though, the use of a timer has to be genuine, like the Rug Store with its perpetual “closing down” sale, savvy consumers will quickly see through a fake deadline.

Profiting from the fundamentals of Group Buying: part 1… Focus

image

Group Buying works for a reason, regardless of the service woes plaguing the industry (which have been driven by a combination of greed and inexperience, not the model itself) the principles behind Group Buying are sound. Over the next few posts, I will explain the key mechanics and position them in a series of non-Group Buying contexts.

There are six key mechanics inherent to the category that are designed to illicit an emotional response, such as an impulse purchase.image

This is the first of six posts I will write that describe those mechanics.

FOCUS ATTENTION ON ONLY A FEW OFFERS

Limiting promotional efforts to only 1 – 3 featured offers enhances the perception of those offers and likely uptake, minimising “noise” around those offers will further spotlight the chosen few. Featuring multiple offers on the other hand dilutes the “WOW” and runs the risk of Paradox of Choice effects.

Most email platforms will support controlled tests, such as sending one control group an EDM with multiple offers, one with the three best offers and one EDM with only a single “hero” offer.

Assuming the control conditions are sound, the likely outcome is that the Hero and “three best offers” EDMs will each provide a click through rate that is greater than the “multiple offers” EDM even though the multiple offers email included the featured offers from the other tests.

Finding the right balance is critical, and running controlled A/B and Multi Variant Tests will find that balance.

Why I don’t worry about Hitwise

As the CEO of a Group Buying business in the nascent and burgeoning category it was critical that I had a very clear view of marketing effectiveness, with Audience Engagement being the key indicator. There were a number of sources available to the team that purported to provide reliable Audience measurement and insights however I only depended on two to provide an accurate view, Omniture and Nielsen.

Alternative sources included Hitwise, Google Analytics and Alexa – Google Analytics is cheap/free but pretty unreliable and Alexa provides a Relative view only. Hitwise is the worst of the bunch though given their data collection methodology means it doesn’t represent the broader online population and worse still, it doesn’t necessarily reflect human activity!

Here are the two main issues with Hitwise data:

1. Hitwise does not measure individuals – it measures traffic.

This effectively means you could hit your website with bot traffic to boost your numbers and it would show as traffic in Hitwise. Nielsen Australia removed 50% of GroupOn Australia’s traffic in March because that traffic consisted largely of unsolicited clicks, meaning popups that appear as you close scurrilous ads (Congratulations, you have won $1,000,000!!!!!) – those clicks are still counted in Hitwise.

2. Hitwise doesn’t include key ISPs

Hitwise harvest data from partnering ISP’s, however Australia’s two largest ISP’s BigPond and Optus don’t participate. This is major a concern as a large proportion of internet users (about 58%) are not reflected in their data. This is a particular problem for a business like Cudo given its mainstream audience, and mainstream Australia do not typically use fringe ISPs.

Nielsen was recently selected as the official measurement partner of the Australian IAB, in their press release they said:

With the endorsement of Nielsen Online Ratings, IAB Australia is identifying people-based metrics, as opposed to browser-based, as the best and preferred online audience measurement system for the Australian online advertising industry.

This is the nub of the problem. TechCrunch called it out almost two years ago.

At Cudo we didn’t care about browsers for obvious reasons, we cared about people, they still do, like the 1,000,000 plus Australians who go to cudo.com.au each and every month, I couldn’t give a monkeys how many Bots swing by!