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    When Good Deals Go Bad (Part 2)

    As I laid out in my last post, the hottest business trend of showing deep discounts just leverages the current sale-oriented culture.  While one can find these deals in nearly every email that passes through the inbox, it is not more plainly laid out then with GroupOn where stuff is simply 50% (ish) off all of the time.  Everything they are selling, every day of the week.

    Rather than delve into whether or not GroupOn takes advantages of small businesses, I am going to stay focused on the business concept that drives GroupOn – discounts compel people to buy.  Sometimes they need the item and most of they time they don’t.  The thing is, the deal is just so darn good and the discount so darn large people are left asking themselves “how can I not buy this?”

    The reality, of course, is that we’re still in the early phases of this broad based discount solution and businesses are still trying to figure out if there is a way to effectively use it as a marketing channel.  Regardless of how it turns out, this is clearly a marketing expense and, therefore, will come out of the marketing budget as part of the promotion cost.  Small businesses may not have the data or wherewithal to figure out the true cost, but my guess is that they will find out via word-of-mouth or their own P&L statements, even if they don’t have the gory details.  With this in mind, let’s focus on the major players only for the sake of discussion.

    When a company runs a promotion as significant as a GroupOn, they are surly going to be tracking everything they can to figure out if it was a good deal or not.  Did the promotion drive enough incremental sales to cover, not only the cost paid to GroupOn and the cost of the goods/service provided, but also of the subsidized behavior (people who would have purchased anyway)?  That’s a lot to overcome.  The business benefit, for the moment, is more that it can help make a company look cool and interesting.  It may even draw people back into the brand that have been away for a bit.

    Still, it is all a marketing expense.  It comes from a marketing budget.  And this is what people fail to realize.  A good that is on clearance is discounted because the business needs to move through the inventory and is, therefore, not a marketing expense.  The loss of margin dollars comes out of a different part of the budget.  The consumer is actually getting a deal here because the goods used to be sold at full price.

    This is not the case with a deal like GroupOn (or LivingSocial).  Since these are marketing expenses, the cost of a marketing is built into the cost of the product.  That fact that you, as an individual, get the full price product for 50% off doesn’t change the fact that, in total, it didn’t cost the company anything.  They simply didn’t run a “Buy one get one” promo or a “Gift with purchase” promo.

    What this means for the sustainability of this heavy coupon culture is that it will only continue to work so long as there are enough consumers willing to continue to buy the product without a marketing promotion.  My prediction is not that the discount culture will go away (although I am skeptical of the long-term viability of operations like GroupOn) but that you’ll see the same companies or the same types of companies use that type of promotion and that it will become stale.

    For the moment I, as a consumer, would – and do –  jump on that discount train but my prediction is that it won’t last as it currently exists.  After more and more companies run those type of promotions we’ll start to see clear trends emerge.  As those trends become more solidified even the less advanced businesses will start to see that “business of selling product/service A are never featured” and there will be more whitepaper style publications on the success or failure of the promotions.

    While not as overdone as Black Friday, as Black Friday has a good 20 year head start, I would keep an eye on this.  The simple truth is that a company cannot give away goods at 75% off (50% discount and then 25% to deal provider e.g. GroupOn) and not raise prices.  The promotion is simply too deep and too short lived (versus a longer buy one, get one) to last.  The math doesn’t work.  So get the the deals now, while business still have not “marked ’em up to mark ’em down” and don’t fully understand what the expected cost really will be.

    And remember, the “deals” at Coach Outlets actually have a higher profit margin than the full price regular stores on 5th Ave.

    Did you get a deal recently?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

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