Groupon Nips At Yelp and OpenTable With Time-Based Deals

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Groupon — the daily deals site that has been expanding to include other e-commerce services for local businesses — is today unveiling  the latest product in that strategy. It is adding a new feature that will let businesses offer deals to users to be redeemed at a specific time in the day. Groupon says that the ability to set up and buy time-based deals are being rolled out first to restaurants and other food and drink establishments, starting today, with the intention to expand that to other categories like beauty salons, auto shops, educational classes, events and more.

Time-based deals will effectively work with Groupon’s existing deals platform: customers can book reservations (or later, appointments) via Groupon.com, or via its mobile app. When you come to redeem it, you no longer need to present a voucher as you would with an open-ended Groupon deal purchase. A merchant can integrate the time-based option with their own reservations system, or with Groupon’s, the company tells me. There is no additional fee to use the feature.

The idea behind time-based deals is relatively simple, and relatively common: while no one will deny that any business is good business, what can be challenging for a retailer that serves customers is to keep the flow of service constant without labor-crushing peaks, and unprofitable troughs.

It’s a problem that e-commerce companies have been trying to tackle for a while now. Remember Pirq, the company that was working on a loyalty offer to be used internally by Apple employees? They are also addressing the same problem of how to create more predictably consistent footfall.

FronterGrillDealImage

The benefit for Groupon in offering this is twofold.

On the consumer side, it gives the company another route into offering more flexible options for customers — who can still browse the open-ended offers, but can now also get options for time-specific bookings, which may give them more peace of mind that they will actually use the service.

On the B2B side, it gives Groupon the benefit of one more touchpoint with merchant customers. Given that companies like Yelp, OpenTable and more are all also looking to “own” the booking and ushering relationships with restaurants and other local merchants, having one more feature like time-based deals potentially could give Groupon a competitive edge over these others.

The added control and differentiation seems to be the benefit that Groupon is playing up.

“Our new booking technology provides merchants even greater control over their deals to match the needs of their business and offers a tremendous customer experience,” said Julie Szudarek, SVP, Local Deals, in a statement. “And as more and more businesses list their reservation and appointment inventory with us, it gives our customers another reason to always check Groupon first.”

(Getting an edge right now is important for the company, after it reported a disappointing quarter with a loss per share of $0.03.)

Groupon tells me that its time-based deals solution was developed in house, “inspired by our past reservations experiences with Savored and Groupon Reserve.” It was some of the team from Savored, the reservations startup Groupon acquired in 2012, that built the feature.

The company has been trialling its solution in a test in Chicago. If you live in the city and use Groupon, you may have come across the initial pilot, with the city’s popular Frontera Grill or 100 other food-and-drink businesses.

“They’re making it really easy for us to fill tables during off-peak times, which generates more revenue for the restaurant and gives us more opportunities to attract new customers and turn them into lifelong fans,” said Rick Bayless, owner of Frontera Grill, in a statement.

A video of how it works is here: