Facebook takes on Groupon

16 March 2011

PALO ALTO: Facebook, the social network, is trialling a new "daily deals" service, putting it into direct competition with early category leaders like Groupon and LivingSocial.

The Web 2.0 pioneer's latest initiative expands on the geo-location tools developed for the company's Places platform, and augments the promotional offers provided through Facebook Deals.

Daily deals will initially run in Austin, Atlanta, Dallas, San Diego and San Francisco.

Visitors can view a dedicated page detailing all the current discounts, money-off schemes and other enticements pursued by marketers, accessing this section of Facebook via a link from their personal homepage.

Similar to Google's search engine, Facebook may have found a way to successfully monetise the long tail of small enterprises, by promising a large audience on a comparatively modest budget.

"Local businesses will be able to sign up to use this feature soon and people will be able to find deals in the coming weeks," a Facebook statement said.

Emily White, Facebook's director of local operations, further suggested Facebook's social focus could now extend offline.

"You won't get your legs waxed with friends," she said. "You dine out, you go to concerts, you do outdoor activities. We want to make sure those experiences are maximised."

Alongside its in-house sales unit, Facebook is working with nine firms, like restaurant booking specialist Open Table, family-orientated social shopping site Plum District and high-end equivalent Gilt City, to source offers.

Zozi, which prioritises holidays and adventurous travel trips, is another member of this group.

"We are very excited about the Facebook partnership. They are an extraordinarily strong company with the largest number of page views on the web," said TJ Sassani, Zozi's chief executive.

"That's helpful when we talk to merchants."

One problem to be overcome by Facebook, and the whole sector, is the fact many organisations, particularly smaller businesses, cannot match demand, and therefore actually make a loss.

"There are some downsides to having a huge audience," said Greg Sterling, a senior analyst at Opus Research.

"For national advertisers, it's double-edged as well. The minute something appears that's any good, people will be all over that."

Lou Kerner, a Wedbush Securities analyst, argued such a strategy pushes Facebook to the forefront of an increasingly intense online battle.

"Local is the last frontier that the internet has not conquered, and everyone is going after it with a vengeance," said Kerner.

"This news is just kind of an evolutionary moment in Facebook's drive to be a major player in local."

Consultancy BIA/Kelsey predicted US consumer expenditure on "deal a day" goods and services would rise 35.1% a year in the near term, climbing from $873m in 2010 to $1.2bn in 2011, and hitting $3.9bn by 2015.

Based on an optimistic reading - where the amount of featured cities, registered users, average transactions and price beat current forecasts - BIA/Kelsey anticipated the 2015 total might reach $6.1bn.

"We expect to see some shift in local media spending resulting from the adoption of deal a day by local advertisers," said Peter Krasilovsky, BIA/Kelsey's vp and program director, Marketplaces.

"We also believe that deal a day doesn't exist in a vacuum. It will become a part of the growing deals and offers landscape."

To gain a meaningful foothold, Facebook must take on LivingSocial, which has previously received investment from Amazon, and Groupon, thought to be considering an initial public offering.

"Some investors may get spooked," said Sterling. "In the old days, everybody worried about Google entering every segment of the market. And now Facebook is another concern."

Data sourced from Reuters, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Financial TImes; additional cotnent by Warc staff