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    When Good Deals Go Bad (Part 2)

    January 18th, 2012

    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.



    Why I Dislike iTunes And XBox Marketplace

    December 1st, 2009

    It is no secret that virtual goods are a hard sell for me; I need to get something not easily duplicated for my money.  After my first post Fantasy7 made the argument that people buy a Facebook gift for the experience.  They buy it for the joy of giving and for the joy of receiving.  A similar argument was made for in-game items for games such as Word of Warcraft.  Again, I understand this.  Which is why I then wrote a second post to address these issues.

    Again Fantasy7 was back, pushing for virtual goods.  That music and games could be passed on.  That an e-book had just as much value as a book on the shelf you don’t read.  If you don’t intend to resell it they have the same value.  While, for me, this is an argument that is on rather thin ice I at least understand where Fantasy7 is coming from.  But I am not convinced and today I will make another case against virtual goods.

    I believe some of the views toward virtual goods are shortsighted.  In reality, one can never know how long they will want something.  This is why craigslist become a hit quickly and why rummage sales will never go out of style.  At some point in time you will have stuff that is either no longer of value to you either because it is junk or too worn/old for you.  At such a point one could just throw it away.  Or one could gift it.  Or recycle it.

    Lets take one example most people can get on board with, a car.  A car is not something that one generally just throws away.  Nor is it something that is generally just gifted – though I do recognize that children may get one as a gift.  I think everyone can get on board with the idea that trashing or gifting a car is not the most common thing to do with it.  Even though the goal is to get rid of the car, people still sell it because it retains some value in some way, even if it is just for parts.  The physical item has value and always will, if only as scrap metal.  It may have too small of a value for the owner to do anything but trash it, but there is still value, however small.

    Now to my point.  Digital goods only have value to the original seller.  If this is not the case, can someone please show me where I can sell my iTunes songs I don’t want?  Or where to unload my XBox Marketplace download of the original Halo?  Only iTunes and Xbox make money in these spaces.  Not the case with purchased games where I have a physical, non-easily reproducible copy of the game.  Yes it is a copy of some original source code, but there is the case, manual, artwork, etc. that are not easily copied.  If you buy an iTunes song or movie it does not take much to make a copy, copyright protected or not.

    My larger point is that any virtual good that you purchase  is a sunk cost.  End of story.  This is simply not the case with physical goods.  Forget the arguments about worth and experience and all that.  Even Fantasy7 can’t argue with the statement that a virtual game or song is a sunk cost (it may be different for online game merchandise, though as soon as the multi-player server goes offline, the player is left with nothing, no matter how much real money they spent).  It is simply a fact.  And this is why I will always prefer a physical good with any purchase I make.  I cannot predict the future, nor can any of you, so why not keep my options open.  The physical will always retain value.

    So what prompted this post?  I was going to throw away some old XBox games.  But, I checked online to see if they were worth something.  Anything I could get for them would be gravy since the plan was to junk them.  And believe it or not, Amazon is selling WWE Raw 2 for $89.94.  Others list it new at $29.99 and used at $7.76.

    It’s not much but it is a free lunch.  Assume that you have just the download from Xbox Live Marketplace.  Who’s paying for your lunch?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Types of Swoopo Auctions

    October 6th, 2008

    From my previous post on Swoopo I generated a small bit of confusion because Swoopo has several types of auctions.  Here they are directly from the Swoopo site (though I rearranged them a bit for my comments):

    Fixed Price Auction
    If you win a Fixed Price Auction, you only pay the price indicated in the heading of the auction (plus delivery costs), regardless of the level the bidding reaches.

    100% off
    Where an auction is marked “100% off”, the winning bidder does not have to pay the final price. That’s right: the price is zero! You just need to pay the delivery charges.

    These are basically the same thing and makes this site seem a bit more sleazy.  Here’s why.  With a fixed price auction or a 100% off auction you don’t pay the value of the auction, just the fixed price or nothing, respectively.  That seems straight forward until you think about it.  If they already know what they are selling it for (or that they are giving it away free) the users are basically just giving them money.  They are literally proclaiming “Here is something free, what will you pay me for it.”  Can you really even call that an auction if the bidders are not actually impacting the price?

    Penny Auction
    In a penny auction, the price rises by just one cent with each bid placed (whereas in a normal auction, it rises by 15 cents).

    Well this is nice of them.  In case you were able to hold off yourself from bidding when the price went up 15 cents with each bid they have auctions where it only goes up a single penny.  Thus, you look at the price and want to jump right in not realizing just how much money Swoopo is going to take you and other fools like you for.

    NailBiter Auction
    During a NailBiter Auction, BidButlers aren’t allowed. Users may only place single bids by manually clicking or calling. Don’t walk away or you miss the next incredible deal!

    This would be interesting except that the time goes up with each bid (see below).  So instead of a “NailBiter” you have a sit around all freaking day bidding and waiting for the thing to end.  Good times I’m sure.  Too bad I’ll miss it.

    Open Auction
    Anyone can bid on an open auction, even if they have already reached their eight auction limit. Open auctions do not count towards your auction limit. See ‘How many auctions can I win a month?’ for more information.

    Wait, I can only win so many auctions in a given time period.  Doesn’t this sound a lot like what a casino can do if they think you have a gambling problem?

    20-Second Auction
    All auctions start as 20-second auctions. The countdown increases by a maximum of 20 seconds each time that a bid is placed.

    15-Second Auction
    You guessed it – with these the countdown increases by a maximum of 15 seconds with each bid placed.

    10-Second Auction
    You guessed it – with these the countdown increases by a maximum of 10 seconds with each bid placed.

    Wow.  What variety.  It is like the Jelly Belly of auction sites.  Really guys, do we need a different line for each you guessed it – X second auction type.

    I hope that clears things up a bit for people.  In my original post I did have my math with the winner having to pay for the final price of the auction.  While this isn’t always the case, it often times is.  I’m not going to waste my time looking around for exact examples, but if you want to Swoopo does feature a list of completed auctions.  Please remember what Thomas Tusser said: “A fool and his money are soon parted.”


    Pure Profit: A Look at Swoopo

    September 25th, 2008

    This post digresses a bit from web analytics but the business concept of Swoopo is so brilliant – but not endorsed by myself – that I had to post on it.  Before I get into this post I want to make one thing clear:

    DO NOT USE SWOOPO!  YOU WILL LOSE MONEY USING THIS SITE!

    Now that I have made my position clear I can get into how brilliant this site is for making money at the expense of others.  It is not customer service oriented and it is probably not going to have a ton of repeat customers.  What it will have is a huge pocket book as long as P.T. Barnum’s phrase holds true: There’s a sucker born every minute.

    First I will lay out for you how the site works.  It is a ‘auction’ site…sort of.  Swoopo sells bids for $1.  Each time you use a bid on an item the price is increased by $0.15 for that item.  So here is an example:

    Person A buys 5 bids from Swoopo for $5 total.  Person A sees an auction for $1000 and places the first bid.  The auction is now at $0.15.  Person A now has a sunk cost of $1 (the cost of the bid they used).  There is no way to get that dollar back, win or lose.  If Person A wins they must pay the $0.15.

    Person B also purchased $5 of bids.  Person B sees the same auction and places the second bid.  The auction price is now $0.30 (because each bid increases the cost by exactly 15 cents).  Person B now has a sunk cost of $1.  If Person B wins they must pay the $0.30.  Swoopo now has $2 in the bank and the auction is at 30 cents.

    This can happen with as many users as there are suckers to start accounts.  Why are they suckers?  Because everybody that does not have the top spot just loses the money they spent on bids.  *Poof* Gone.  If you think this sounds a little like gambling or a complete scam you are not alone.  People get swept up into the auction and don’t want to get nothing for the money they spent on bids.  I think you will understand it better if I show you an example of people getting ripped off on the site.

    Please note that while the math in the laptop example assumes that the winner has to pay for the item, Swoopo has different types of auctions which are described in my post on types of Swoopo auctions.

    An auction for a laptop that says on the auction page, and I quote, “Worth up to $1,399.99″  The winning bidder, as stated on the site, placed 2020 bids.  That is $2,020!!  And the auction page proclaims “Savings: 0%”  when it really should read negative!  So Swoopo made like $600.  BUT WAIT!  The auction started at $0.00 and finished at $3,353.85.  Now read that again.  They were already up $600 from the winners bids alone.  The winner sucker still had to pay $3,353.85 because that was the price of the auction.  Okay, so Swoopo walks away with a cool $4,000 pure profit.  (Like a bad TV commercial) BUT WITH THERE’S MORE!  Remember that bids are placed in 15 cent increments.  That means that if the auction finished for $3,353.85 you take that divided by $0.15 which equals $22,359 in bids!!!!  That brings total profit to $22,359 (bids) + $3,353.85 (auction) -$1,399.99 (retail cost of laptop, probably not their cost) = $24,312.86

    This is not to say that there are no good deals on Swoopo.  The auction for $1000 finished at $568.20.  The winner of that auction placed 218 bids ($218 dollars worth) for a savings of 78%.  Why is it 78%?  because it is a 100% off auction  – see my post on types of Swoopo auctions– meaning that you don’t have to pay the final value of the auction (how sketchy is that).  In theory, if no one else would have bid, you or I could have spent $1 on one bid and won the auction.  If we would have won the other guys $218 would have been for nothing.  Now keep in mind that if this were not a 100% off auction that the winner would also pay $568.20 in addition to the $218 for bids.  Total investment: $786.20.  Is that really worth the risk of getting nothing?  I think not.

    There are 2 kickers that I have to throw in yet.

    1. Every time a bid is placed the length of the auction increases.  Therefore if a bunch of people “snipe” it at the end, the auction can go from 5 seconds left to 20 min.  Yeah.
    2. And in case you were worried about the one who got away, Swoopo provides a “BidButler” that auto bids for you up to your set amount when someone out bids you.  If you are going to spend $1 a bid, please don’t let some BidButler do it for you.  After all they don’t call it “entertainment shopping” for nothing.

    All said and done this seems like a little bit of a scam, praying on people that either don’t get it or are stupid.  If one were to use this site the only smart thing to do would be to research what auctions of stuff goes for and then place a single bid when it gets to that price and hope you are not out bid.  Anything else is just a waste of money.  That is, of course, if you ignore the fact that everybody else who has bid gets nothing.  It is a combination of eBay and gambling – more gambling (in that you must pay to bid but if you don’t win you don’t get anything).  Think of betting on red in roulette, you only get something if you win otherwise it is gone.  At least if you win there others can win as well.  If it were Swoopo roulette if you won everybody else would lose.

    It is just amazing – and yet totally understandable once you get the mechanics – that this site made money selling $1000.  $3788(bids) – $1000 (cost of item) = $2788 profit.

    Paraphrased Swoopo business plan in short: find 10 people to give us $10 each and one of them will get this $20 gift card.  Repeat.  Official Song: I Get Money

    What do you think?  Scam?  Brilliance? Awesomeness? Just another web site?

    10/6 UPDATE: Check out my new post on PennyCave, a Swoopo look-a-like!