Less than four years since bursting onto the scene, online deals company Groupon has bagged numerous awards, grown to 12, 000 employees in 42 countries and it even has its own dedicated travel division. Breaking Travel News catches up with Roy Blanga, the man tasked with heading up the company’s UK operations, to find out what’s next on the agenda for the industry changing - Groupon.
Breaking Travel News: What is the vision for Groupon UK?
Roy Blanga: Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in 48 countries, allowing customers to experience the best of what local business has to offer. Innovation in technology, process and products is transforming local commerce and opening it up to a wider audience than ever before. For businesses we want to become the operating system for local commerce and for consumers we see ourselves as an experience-provider rather than a voucher or discount website. With many high street businesses struggling in the current economic climate we are keen to be seen as a core part of a businesses marketing mix, helping them to bring new customers through the door.
BTN: How many employees currently work at Groupon and in how many countries?
RB: Groupon has been one of the fastest growing companies of the decade. With over 12,000 employees working across 42 countries, Chicago headquarters, a growing office in Palo Alto, CA, local markets throughout North America and regional offices in Europe, Latin America, Asia and around the world.
BTN: Did you expect to achieve such phenomenal success in such a short time and what has even been described as ‘a retail revolution’?
RB: Groupon was born as an antidote to that common ailment of having too many options of things you could do in your local area. Overwhelming choice can actually be quite stifling, often the easiest thing is to go to a familiar restaurant, or just stay at home and watch TV. At Groupon we think that people are naturally curious and so we wanted to make it simple to try out new things. Our phenomenal success is due to the fact that the model is that simple – great experiences, in your local area, at the right price.
What has also been a big factor is the fact that large household brands and retailers are successfully beginning to weave social media into their sales, marketing and new business processes but this has not trickled down to the local commerce level. This seems insane to us, especially as there are over 4.5 million SMEs in the UK alone, employing an estimated 13.8 million people, with an estimated combined annual turnover of £1,500 billion. By bringing the weight of the internet and social media to smaller businesses we are growing a new customer base for this incredibly vibrant and important section of our business community.
Hitting both of these vital factors has been the catalyst for our success.
BTN: How do you keep your subscribers engaged and not frustrated with receiving emails each day?
RB: We have tried to keep the model simple, offer stuff we would want to buy. Getting a good deal is only half the battle – no matter what the price is it still has to be a great product or service for someone to try something new. If you get something interesting sent to you everyday you will continue to open it and engage with it.
We have to ensure that all our correspondence is about discovery and surprise, that’s the experience we are trying to create for our customers every day and it has to come across in our writing, our marketing and in our featured deals - as well as getting the price right.
BTN: In what ways do you expect Groupon to revolutionise how customers shop in the long term?
RB: The size of the opportunity we have in front of us is huge. We are perfectly positioned to bring the internet to local commerce and revolutionise the way people buy things locally. But it is not just about the consumer but the businesses we work with. We want Groupon to be both the consumers’ and the merchants’ portal into any local commerce experience, enhancing every single local commerce transaction.
One of the main issues for local businesses is often efficiency. Many local businesses may only ever be 80 per cent full at any given time, technology has solved this issue for many other industries but due to a lack of investment it has yet to be achieved in the local commerce market place. We are changing all of that, helping businesses with free scheduling tools, consulting with them on how to best generate new customer footfall as well as managing those new customers to ensure that they keep on coming back.
For consumers it’s all about discovery, getting quick and easy access to the most interesting experiences in their local area. We are working on a number of tools that will not only open up all these local experiences, but tailor them for each consumer and serve them up all the detail they need to make that purchasing decision, whether that be on their mobile or online.
BTN: You have recently been talking about tailoring your services by age and gender – how is that going?
RB: At Groupon we call tailoring or personalisation Smart Deals. Smart Deals is in beta phase in the US and we have plans to roll it out much more widely. I can’t give you any dates at this time, we are focusing on getting it just right, but it is exciting to see the potential of what we will be able to offer our customers and merchants in the future.
BTN: In what ways are you tapping into mobile technologies?
RB: All of our stats confirm that Groupon is well-suited as a mobile experience, in fact Groupon was the winner of Best Money Saving App at this year’s Carphone Warehouse Appy Awards. The reason why it is well suited is because we are curating a retail experience, it’s not a massive search activity, making it simple and easy to access through a mobile. By making a recommendation of a handful of deals that are very easy to browse, Groupon is a sticky experience on a mobile device. As I said before local commerce has had less technology investment in the past but at Groupon we believe that local commerce will be one of the fundamental use-cases enabled by mobile devices over the next few years.
BTN: You have now set up a dedicated travel division – why was this an important area for Groupon? What does it add to the brand?
RB: If you talk about experiences and discovery you have to look at travel and Getaways was a natural progression for Groupon. So many people use their precious holiday time to experience new things and even through times are tight people still want the chance to get away on holiday – whether that be a weekend in the Cotswolds or a week in Sardinia. What works so well with Groupon is that you may be served up a feature about a weekend in Barcelona and never have thought about going there before, but the fact that the deal is right makes Barcelona an interesting option for your holiday. Getaways opens up more destinations to more people. You can’t go on to the site to find a hotel for a specific trip, but it may just take you somewhere you never thought about going before!
BTN: What’s in the pipeline for Groupon? Which emerging markets do you have your eye on?
RB: Our rapid growth and consumer uptake means that we are already in 48 countries, which is quite a feat in such a short space of time. We are focusing on providing the best possible deals and working with the best local businesses in every country in which we operate. As UK MD, my focus is on developing the Groupon experience here, which means keeping our finger on the pulse of what consumers want to be doing as well as what support our merchant partners need from us to make their business successful. You are going to see a lot more from us on both fronts here in the UK.
BTN: What are the main challenges for Groupon going forward?
RB: Many people have raised the issue of copycat companies, but what people tend to underestimate is the dual nature of the Groupon model. We are both a technology company and an operational company. You cannot deliver the service we deliver without both sides of the coin. We will continue to evolve and develop the technology that serves our features up to consumers as well as the technology that enables our business partners to run their operations more effectively. This can only be done in close partnership with our local merchants, which means a focus on the operational part of our business; having the right people on the ground, an understanding of what is hot in the local areas we operate in, as well as the consultants at the end of the phone supporting our partners on a daily basis.