Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are you ready to be part of the Group?

I’ve heard lots of dialogue (on both sides of the fence) about Group Buying Sites (e.g. Groupon, LivingSocial, PlumDistrict and BuyWithMe) and how they have negatively impacted small businesses. In fact, I’ve even heard a few stories about how they put small businesses out of business!

These stories include businesses who were overwhelmed by new customers, saw unplanned spikes in demand and businesses where group buying sites created surges in website traffic and need for increased cash flow to manage inventory capacity builds. On the surface, this might lead you to say that group purchase sites are not good for small business. This is one place where I completely disagree!

I'd like to suggest that in fact, it's not the group buying sites fault for delivering "too many customers" to a store that participates, but in fact, it is the unprepared small business owner who has created what I believe are problems that can be easily prepared for.

Oprah Effect
Think of the impact that product endorsements from the Oprah Winfrey show had on small businesses. Many a lucrative business was catapulted from the dark corners of mediocrity to the bright lights of notoriety by being endorsed by Oprah on her show. How did they ever survive? How dare Oprah promote their products…did she not know she could put them out of business?

In fact, most (if not all) of the businesses featured on Oprah had time to prepare for the impact that the show would provide. The benefit of this proper planning in advance created the positive opportunity that the Oprah effect delivered.

Be Careful What You Ask For!
Any promotion deployed in isolation without regard for the effects on business operations is a disaster waiting to happen. A small business owner must take into consideration the ramifications of a Group Buying Site promotion on all aspects of the business. The financial impact of the Group Buying Site’s offer on gross profits can be easily measured, but the potential investments required in other operational aspects (IT and IS upgrades, staffing, training, inventory management, onsite customer logistics, cash flow requirements, customer relationship management programs) are more difficult to predict. All must be carefully evaluated and considered BEFORE entering into an agreement with a Group Buying Site. Strategic preparation is critical to maximize the potential success of the promotion and mitigating potential risks to your business.

Long Term Value of the Customer

A key element of many of these Group Buying Site promotions is the immediate discount on the initial transaction. If the small business owner views this opportunity as a chance to drive one-time transactions, they are doomed to failure. The key is to consider the long term value of the customer; the promotion expense is merely the customer acquisition cost. If the new customer can be converted from a one-time discounted transaction to a regular consistent customer, then the true monetization potential of the promotion is acheived. All said and done, the small business owner may initially only break even on the Group Buying Site promotion, but they have been presented with a glorious opportunity to drive future sales and profit growth through customer retention.

Think long term and you have a chance for success. Deliver a great customer experience and you have a better chance for success. PREPARE with a focus on the long term and you will succeed.

1 comment:

Cynthia Bragdon said...

This is really good advice for any kind of change to a store, whether its group buying or offering a new service to customers. Nothing is simple and every change has a ripple effect. The more preparation done, as in your article, the less grief there will be later!
I don't think group buying is right for every business though. As with any advertising, the demographics of the target market have to be right or else its a waste of money.
Thanks for the tips!