Groupon launches "Personalized Deals," but some customers wonder what they're missing
Soon after yesterday's Mashable report on Groupon's launch of "deal personalization, giving the site the ability to send you the deals it thinks you’ll be most interested in," I tweeted the following: "I predict some consumers will have anxiety about what they're missing."
Sure enough, the comments on Groupon's blog about the program--which will, per Mashable, send "different deals to users based on criteria like their gender, buying history, and their interests... based on a personalization algorithm" created by someone from Netflix, "and there won’t be a button to see the dozen other deals that might be available in that city"--are running heavily toward the anxious.
There are three related reasons why this may prove to be a tricky change for Groupon.
First, if the company ends up offering a dozen or so deals in a given city each day, that takes away from the specialness of one main deal per day. Some of the uniqueness of the model is gone. (For businesses, it could be a positive development if demographic targeting works well, as they can now presumably better select the potential customers they wish to cultivate--but what if you aren't in that ideal target market for a deal you really would have enjoyed? You can see where the potential for hard feelings kicks in; you can also see why Groupon's not giving everyone access to all deals from a pure advertiser-service perspective.)
Second, many customers buy Groupons with friends. Although they'll still be able to forward deals to their pals, there's no longer that instant everyone's-in-this-together vibe of the universal daily deal (and, yes, side deal). And what if your bestie doesn't get the cool deal you'd both love because she's doesn't live in a zip code from which the client wanted to harvest customers? When you send her the deal... awkward!
Third, without the ability to scan through the entire universe of the day's deals for a given city, some customers will be bothered by the notion that they might be missing out on cool stuff. Groupons are one of those get-em-now-or-they're-gone items, so it's going to stink if you're a loyal customer who diligently checks the daily deal only to hear too late from a friend that you missed out on something cool, perhaps because you live in a neighborhood that's less desirable to the advertiser for whatever reason. Rather than being a cool, fun, special, group thing, it could start to feel a bit exclusionary. And many Groupon commenters say they like the service precisely because it turns them on to stuff they wouldn't normally seek out and allows them to in effect cheat demographic destiny. They're afraid deals personalized to stuff they normally like will keep them from some fun new experiences.
Now, Time Out Chicago has participated in Groupon as a client, and from a business perspective, I can see where demographic targeting is potentially a useful feature. I'm also a semi-regular Groupon customer, and I don't think I'm going to be too personally freaked out by personalized deals, though I might miss out on some I would have purchased.
So for businesses and the casual user for whom personalization might be fairly transparent, it seems like no big deal. And the company's stated aims to offer more relevant deals (founder Andrew Mason notes that "'try it before you knock it' wasn’t a convincing response to our male customers complaining about mani-pedi deals") as well as giving the site the ability to craft more deals "located outside of city centers, that cater to niche audiences, or that aren't seeking the heavy volume traditional Groupons deliver" seem reasonable.
But for power users, the ones who care enough to comment on the Groupon blog, the ones most likely to forward deals to their friends, the ones who are your most passionate brand ambassadors, it appears this change is going to be harder to swallow. (Also, Andrew, as one of those male customers, many of the Groupons I purchase I give as gifts to my wife, including mani-pedis and other spa deals. I know others who use Groupons at least in part as a gift-giving opportunity. If the deals are now personalized for us, well, I guess my wife isn't going to be getting as many Groupon presents.)
The easy solution, the have-your-half-price-cake-and-eat-it-too solution, is to create some channel for hardcore users to see all the deals. Maybe it's a tab on the site that average users just won't click as often. Maybe it's via the city's Twitter feed. (Pro tip: Judging by this morning's @GrouponChicago tweets, it appears that may indeed be the place to see deals that don't arrive in your in-box.) Maybe it's a perk of membership--buy x number of Groupons in a year and you can see more deals. Or maybe there are just so many users in Groupon's biggest cities that they've basically overwhelmed the one-deal-a-day model.
Here's what Groupon user Andrea Thorp had to say in a couple of comments she felt strongly enough to post before 4:30 this morning:
"I think the idea is worth a try. My suggestion is that along with the specific deal that you send per preferences, that you also have a tab with all the available groupons for the day. This way those that have the time and want to 'browse' the list can do so. I am afraid that I will miss a Groupon that I otherwise would have bought.
"Also HUGELY important. We buy Groupons with our friends. This past weekend 10 of us went (each with a Groupon) and had a blast. If we all start getting different Groupons in our email…….how will we be able to Groupon together?????"
And here's user Lisa with a fairly savvy note:
"I also like the idea of a tab to see all offers. I am wondering if you are really doing this for the merchants but trying to sell it as a benefit to us–maybe the merchants only want people in their area because that is who is most likely to return and pay full price."
That anxiety is real. The good news is that it seems the Andreas of the world are willing to give the idea a shot if given the option to see other available deals. If Groupon is committed to listening to its users, especially its power users, the path to success of the personalization program seems to lie there.
But will Groupon listen? Mason jumped into the blog comment fray this morning. Here's what he had to say to the oft-repeated comments about wanting to see all the deals, not wanting to have to forward deals to friends every day to see if there's something everyone can do together, and still wanting to have unexpected deals pop up:
"Don’t worry – personalization on Groupon is more about knowing what NOT to send you. We realize that the randomness is a big part of what makes Groupon fun, and that’s not going away. For example, you’ll never be able to just say, 'only send me restaurant deals.'"
I've reached out to Groupon for comment about whether the company will give customers the option to see all daily deals for their city (or if they're already doing that via Twitter), and I'll update the post when I hear back.