I recently wrote a short post about Groupon and the growing phenomenon of group buying online. Among the several companies I mentioned in the post was Yipit. I lumped the company in with several others as purveyors of local deals to consumers. Shortly thereafter I was contacted by the co-founders of Yipit (who wanted to clarify the nature of their service) and I had a fascinating conversation with them about the entire segment.
Rather than a direct competitor to these group buying sites the company aims to position itself as the “kayak of group buying.”
What that effectively means is that Yipit aggregates deals from many providers (there are a growing number; see list at bottom). The consumer-user selects the desired offer and clicks through to transact on the underlying third party site, in the same way that Kayak refers leads to airlines or hotels. Similarly Yipit takes a referral or affiliate fee for the lead — provided there’s a transaction that occurs.
The way that Yipit improves upon any one of these sites (e.g., Groupon) is that it brings together much more inventory (offers) than any one of these sites individually. Because of this, it allows users to select areas of interest and not receive offers that aren’t relevant. That has always been my experience with Groupon itself; the concept is great but there are lots of deals I’m not interested in:
The concept of group buying has been around since Mercata and the late 1990s. However in “act 1″ of the Internet it never took off. Now it has momentum on the heels of the general growth of online coupons and social networks more broadly. Consumers love deals and these sites only charge businesses — mostly SMBs — if enough people show up and a sale is made, collectively speaking:
The offers are always time-sensitive and require a commitment/purchase up front by the user. And the structure of the offer creates competition to ensure that the minimum required volume is met.
Each of the sites that Yipit “indexes” are effectively telephone sales channels, which negotiate these deals with local merchants. Yipit then delivers, or helps deliver, traffic to those individual sites.
I was told by Yipit that where there were once just two or three of group buying sites, now there are dozens of them. The barriers to entry are very low: a wordpress blog, a telephone sales and some email software.
Another fascinating thing to consider is that the risk to the merchant is almost zero; SMBs only pay when the group deal is secured. Thus it becomes potentially easier to sell something like this (especially by a “no name” company that the SMB hasn’t heard of) than more conventional “advertising.”
There’s no “ad budget” that gets tapped; the commission is a slice of sales. Consequently there may be more money for these types of programs than for “advertising.” The notion that “SEM funds itself” is one of the myths of paid search, which is especially a myth in the case of small business. However that is in fact true in this case.
If these group buying sites develop enough momentum there’s a kind of parallel universe of SMB promotions that might arise, where the value proposition is more direct and transparent to the merchant and the risk much less than buying clicks or even calls in some sense. While this is clearly not a model and channel that’s going to work for plumbers or lawyers, it probably works for a much broader group of local businesses than one might think.
Here are the sites (or most of the sites) that Yipit draws upon to serve up geographically relevant deals and offers:
Do you think “grouponing” is a fad or a phenomenon that is here to stay in some sense?