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商业

团购网站遭遇瓶颈,未来发展急需转型

Rob Go 2011年09月14日

解决团购行业的弊病并非毫无办法,但对目前这一代公司来说,可能为时已晚。

    和很多人一样,一直以来,我眼看着团购网站Groupon公司疾如流星般的迅速崛起,也看到过去几周来与之相伴的一些负面报道甚嚣尘上。我并不了解该公司的任何内幕,但我曾公开表示,对该公司创始人以及他们能如此迅速壮大起来的业务,我感到钦佩。

    必须明确指出,我认为Groupon绝不仅仅是一个每日特价的邮寄清单。长期来看,这一业务具有估值超过200亿美元的潜力并非不可思议——这是众多小型商户卓有成效的营销解决方案。该公司应该能发展到这样一个特定阶段,届时它能向小型商户提供一些工具,使之能基于人口统计学资料、地理位置、过往购买行为和其他确定目标市场的选择向客户提供目标非常精准的团购产品或服务。这实质上是在向小型商户提供产出管理(yield management)及某种动态定价系统(dynamic pricing)。对各商家和消费者来说,所有这些都是大买卖,是双赢方案。

    分享这个商机的入场券就是消费者的参与程度。Groupon与其竞争者已开始争夺地盘,在尽可能多的领域里拼凑尽可能庞大的特价清单。从理论上说,这个清单越大,锁定目标消费者和进行产出管理的机会就越大。

    但是,这个市场已出现了一些问题。而我怀疑,目前的情况是,这一领域最优秀的公司沦为牺牲品才换来了整个团购行业商业模式的成功。其结果是,Groupon,LivingSocial公司(美国第二大团购网站——译注)及其他公司能融到数额惊人的资本。而大众媒体(在团购聚合网站如Yipit所提供服务的协助下)能相当精确地摸清各家竞争者的规模及其相对增长率。这使得要继续扩大特价清单和提高营收变得压力重重。而要想这么做,最好的办法就是号召更多新商家加入,说服它们提供大幅折扣,尽可能多卖优惠券,维持运转。

    我对这个行业有个纯属空想的看法,即出现一家规模庞大、真正持久经营的公司。但情况与目前稍有不同。与当前这个市场所享有的净收入与收入总额之比在30%到40%的区间相比,这一比例将在15%的区间内徘徊。这是一个比较合理,与其他类型的联属网络营销(affiliate marketing)项目相一致的值。它也能让小型商户可以依靠规模营销赚钱,或是提高优惠券的平均价值使之更具吸引力。我想,届时会出现幅度更小的折扣和定位更精准的团购项目。

    参与团购的商家也能享有更大的控制权,并获得更多的指导,以便从其与这类公司的关系中获得最大的回报。

    最后,消费者也能有多种方式和所提供的服务互动,而不是仅仅每天收到一封团购优惠的电子邮件。届时将会出现围绕本地商家提供的优质内容,绝佳的移动体验,消费者可以自主决定是否接受对其消费行为的追踪以便获得更好的产品和服务,等等。这样一家公司可能没有Groupon或LivingSocial那么强劲的增长势头,但却能建立更稳固的基础,成为一家持续发展的公司。

    不幸的是,当前有太多公司在做上述服务中的某一块了。但如果没有Groupon和LivingSocial那样庞大的消费群规模,任何一家这类公司都难以将其落到实处。更糟糕的是,当前小型商户和消费者都对特价服务厌倦至极,要赢得消费者注意变得更加困难了。

    我想,有朝一日,不再有这么多钱愚蠢地流入已经处于发展末期的互联网公司,这一领域的领头羊才会会更谨慎地拓展业务,并打造出能长期受到商户和消费者喜爱的服务。可惜,这并非当今世界的现状。也许当前市场某个巨头会成为我上面描述的那种公司,持久经营下去。又或者它们只是一个雏形,是行业新星即将到来的一种预兆,正如当年的Lycos(最早提供信息搜索服务的网站之一——译注)和Alta Vista(一度最为流行的搜索引擎)之于后来的谷歌公司(Google)。时间将会告诉我们一切——毕竟谷歌已经成为了现实。

    Rob Go是NextView风险投资公司的联合创始人。这是一家种子期投资公司,专注于互联网创新应用。他此前曾在Spark Capital投资公司工作,其博客地址是www.robgo.org。

    译者:清远

    Like many people, I've been watching the meteoric rise of Groupon as well as some of the negative press we've been seeing the last several weeks. I am not privy to any private information about the company, but I've said publicly that I admire the founders and the kind of business they have been able to build so quickly.

    For the record, I think that Groupon is much more than a deal-of-the-day mailing list. The long-term $20 billion+ potential for this business is not really a mystery -- it's as a performance marketing solution for small businesses. The company should get to the point where they can give small businesses the tools to make very targeted offers to consumers based on demographics, location, past purchase behavior, and other targeting options. You essentially offer the small business yield management and somewhat dynamic pricing. All of these are big deals and are win-win for businesses and consumers.

    The price of admission into this opportunity is consumers engagement. Groupon and its competitors embarked on a land grab, amassing as large a list as possible in as many regions as possible. In theory, the larger the list, the better the opportunity for targeting and yield management.

    But, something has gone wrong in this market. And I suspect this is a case where the best companies in this space are victims of the model's success. As a result, Groupon, LivingSocial and others have been able to raise monstrous amounts of capital. The general press (enabled by services like Yipit) is able to track with pretty good accuracy what the scale is of the various competitors and their relative growth rates. This puts massive pressure to continue to grow lists and grow revenue. And the best way to do that is to call on brand new businesses, convince them to offer massive discounts, sell as many coupons as possible, and move on.

    My armchair observer's view of this business is that there is a massive and truly enduring company here. But it would look a little different. Net revenue / Gross Revenue would be in the 15% range, as opposed to the 30-40% range that is currently enjoyed by the market. This is a rational amount that is consistent with other affiliate marketing programs. It also allows the small business to potentially make money on the sale, or to increase the average value of the coupon to make it more enticing. I think you'd also see smaller discounts and much more targeted offers.

    Merchants would also have much more controls and receive more guidance to getting the most out of their relationship with these companies.

    Finally, consumers would have multiple ways to engage with the service vs. just a daily email. You'd see great content around local businesses, there would be an excellent mobile experience, you'd have the option to have your purchases tracked to provide better offers, etc. This company probably would have had slower top-line growth than Groupon or LivingSocial, but would have built a stronger foundation for an enduring company.

    The sad thing is that there are so many companies doing pieces of this. But it's going to be hard for anyone to really nail it without the massive consumer scale that Groupon and LivingSocial have. And, to make matters worse, both SMBs and consumers is now extremely fatigued with deal services, making it ever harder to win anyone's attention.

    I think in another time, when there wasn't so much money foolishly piling into late stage internet companies, the leaders in this space would have grown more carefully, and built a service that merchants and consumers would love for a long time. Sadly, that is not the state of the world today. Maybe one of the market leaders will become the company I have described above and will be enduring. Or maybe they will be the Lycos and Alta Vista heralding a future Google. Time will tell – but a Google does exist here.

    Rob Go is co-founder of NextView Ventures, a seed-stage investment firm focused on Internet-enabled innovation. He previously was with Spark Capital, and blogs over at www.robgo.org

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