You’ve probably heard of Groupon. If you join its emailing list, the company will send you daily details of deals in your area that it has negotiated with local retailers. If you want to take advantage of any particular deal, you sign up for it online and if enough people do so to reach a minimum number agreed with the retailer, Groupon will bill your credit card. You then download the voucher and use it to purchase you discounted item or service. Discounts are often substantial – 50% or more.
But are these deals as good as they seem? On 2 December, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority took the decision to refer Groupon UK to the Office of Fair Trading, following 48 breaches of the advertising code of practice in eleven months. It referred complaints about Groupon’s:
• Failure to conduct promotions fairly, such as not making clear significant terms and conditions
• Failure to provide evidence that offers are available
• Exaggeration of savings claims
And it was not just consumers who had complained. Many retailers found that so many people signed up for certain deals and the discounts were so great, with Groupon often charging the retailer half the discounted price, that retailers made substantial losses on the deals. One example was a cupcake maker, Rachel Brown, who runs the Need a Cake bakery in Reading, Berkshire. She had to bake so many extra cupcakes below cost that profits for the year were wiped out.
So what is the nature of this market failure and how appropriate are the competition authorities for dealing with it? The following webcasts and articles look at the issues. They also consider the growing problems Groupon faces in the market from new competitors.
It has not been good news recently for Groupon and it’s hardly surprising that, following Groupon’s flotation on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the USA last month, and an initial surge in the share price, its shares have since fallen by over 40%.
Groupon to be investigated by Office of Fair Trading Guardian, Mark Sweney (2/12/11)
OFT launches investigation into Groupon advertisements BBC News (2/12/11)
UK regulator launches Groupon probe Financial Times, Michael Stothard (2/12/11)
Groupon investigated by UK advertising authorities ZDNet, Eileen Brown (5/12/11)
Deal with it: Groupon ponders its future Independent, Stephen Foley (6/12/11)
Groupon’s Business Model Doomed To Fail Seeking Alpha, Mazen Abdallah (5/12/11)
Small Businesses Hate Groupon LiveOutLoud, Loral Langemeier
Competition authorities sites
ASA refers complaints about Groupon to OFT Advertising Standards Authority (2/12/11)
Investigation into the trading practices of MyCityDeal Limited (trading as Groupon UK) Office for Fair Trading (2/12/11)
- What market failings are there in the discount voucher market?
- What to retailers gain from dealing with companies such as Groupon?
- Do small businesses have anyone other than themselves to blame if they make a loss from doing a deal with Groupon?
- What should be the role of the competition authorities in the discount voucher market?
- Is Groupon’s business model ‘doomed to failure’ and if so why?
- Does Groupon have a ‘first-mover advantage’?
- Are there any barriers to entry of new firms into the discount voucher market? If so, what are they? What are the implications of your answer for the future of Groupon?