Saturday, November 5, 2011

Groupon Unveiled

Or sort of. They kind of went public yesterday, offering for sale a limited number of shares. I can recall being told by a relative who worked on Wall Street how the stock market is not gambling, it's investing. Truth be told, it is a gambling kind of investment. This is perfectly described in the PBS Newshour interview with New York Bureau Chief of Wired Magazine when he was asked if Groupon is profitable and what it's business model is. Groupon, he explained, is on the road to profitability and when people buy shares, they are not looking for immediate profitability, but a future profit. What is the business model of Groupon? They work with businesses to promote their service or product by marketing it at a discount to a high volume of people, the idea being that some of those one time discounted customers will become regulars.  He cited an example of 500 people showing up for a spa treatment that is usually $80 dollars but is discounted to $20 dollars if enough people subscribe to the deal on Groupon. It's real cute when people who obviously have zero small business experience offering a service offer up their own theoretical details that have little relationship with reality. For a person who runs a spa, having someone pay $20 for a treatment that is usually $80 is not a good business move, because it wastes product and creates vastly more work for the person who is likely a one person operation.  The real kicker is how, Mr. Bureau Chief explains, Groupon makes money regardless of the long term outcome of the businesses they do business with! They are acting as a broker, so to speak, albeit in the most simple sense. No huge bridges and being created, this is just a slightly new spin on marketing that is all a buz only because it is founded by an already well to do person.  This epitomizes what is faulty with Wall Street and the publicly traded companies, as they are given clout and value...LOTS OF VALUE...before they ever prove to be a viable business. Facebook has bought up other companies, meanwhile the real value of Facebook, minus the fluff, is not obvious.  The idea that being publicly traded makes a company accountable to the public is a misrepresentation of the facts, as we are now learning over and over and over again.  Groupon might pretend to be servicing small businesses, but they have no skin in the game, since they get paid regardless of the outcome of their service. That Groupon is a publicly traded company only gives it more of a buffer, a $700 million buffer, from the reality of its own failures and limitations.  In this context, a mockery is made of small businesses, the majority of which do not enjoy the buffer of cash infusion...not without putting out work and product and having to measure the losses and gains on an immediate basis. I signed up for Groupon where I reside.  Indeed, a spa treatment was offered, discounted from $195 to $95, provided that 20 people sing up. So far only 4 people have signed up for the service. There is a substantial service discount for spider vein laser treatment that has attracted 130 people, likely due to its huge discount.  Terms and conditions apply to this deal, which I have not read.  While I am not certain, I am familiar with human nature, which is to skimp when your are skimped on. Simply put, you get what you pay for. The idea for the businesses is that some customers will become regulars.  In truth, when you are marketing non essentials, the people who are looking for discounts will not be the ones who become regulars.  With the current economic trends on Wall Street, the amount of disposable income that people will likely have to spend on luxury items, be it going out to eat, spa treatment, recreation, yoga, shopping, etc, is being diminished.  One does not have to subscribe to Adam Smith's ideal to understand the reality of his ideology that has taken hold: in capitalism, there are always fewer masters than workers, which is why the masters will have the upper hand.  Wall Street seems to be a mystified method for overcoming this intrinsic limitation.

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