A Sneak Peek At Google Offers (Courtesy Of Google Search)

Google’s $6 billion bid for Groupon didn’t work out, but it wasting no time preparing its own competing Google Offers local advertising product. The first hints of Google Offers came out last week. Google confirmed it, calling it a “test of a pre-paid offers/vouchers program,” but offered no further details.

Well, we have further details, courtesy of Google’s very own search engine. (When PR fails, just Google it). There is a very simple way to get a list of active Google Offers coupons. It is kind of a back door, but if you do a search for “coupons site:maps.google.com intitle:Google Offers,” you can see almost 42,000 results, most of which link to individual active coupons. For example, here is one for a free yoga class in Chicago (Groupon’s home turf) or another one for 50 percent off lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in Watertown, Massachusetts. You can also add an Offers gadget to your iGoogle home page which shows offers near you.

Google just started promoting the service recently to small businesses and already has about 42,000 offers (assuming each result is a unique offer). Perhaps Google is waiting to get to 100,000 or 500,000 offers before publicly launching the service, but local merchants are already signing up in droves. If you go to an active coupon page, you see the name and address of the business above the actual offer, which is inside a boxed, dotted line. I guess you are supposed to show the coupon on your phone to a cashier or maybe you are supposed to print it and cut it out. The offer details are in the box, along with a coupon code and expiration date. Next to the coupon is a small map showing where the business is located. The iGoogle gadget suggests what Google Offers might look like as an Android app, showing you offers nearby.

Although it’s been called a Groupon clone, Google Offers does not appear to be a group-buying discount service. And Google won’t be selling these deals or collecting money directly from consumers. Instead, Google Offers is a straightforward, self-serve local advertising service. The deals include $1 off Kombucha at the Whole Foods in Manhattan’s Union Square or $10 off a gutter cleaning in Michigan. Unlike Groupon, they do not require a minimum number of people to buy them before they become effective, and they don’t seem to be as fun or whimsical either.

Neither will they drive a huge amount of new customers to these businesses (the deals appear to be more pedestrian than insane). It is a different business model entirely. Groupon convinces businesses to offer amazing deals specifically because of its one-deal-a-day promotion and the promised surge of new customers. Google Offers seems to be more predicated on showing you deals in your vicinity, and will likely be more tied to your mobile phone and Google Maps. This approach may scale better than Groupon, but the quality of the deals may not be as exciting. Obviously, since this is a work in progress, we’ll have to wait and see what other bells and whistles Google Offers actually launches with.

Update: As some commenters point out, these Google Offers look very similar to Google Coupons that have been available to local businesses as a feature of Google Places for a long time. It is possible that this is a rebranding of that feature in front of a broader Google Offers product launch. The iGoogle gadget is also new.

Update 2: I’ve been able to confirm that these Google Offers are indeed the same thing as what used to be called Google Coupons. The name has changed recently, although Google still refers to them as “coupons” on its support pages. Confusing matters even more, Google is preparing to launch a pre-paid offers product also called Google Offers which will be more Groupon-like in that the deal must be paid for in advance in order to redeem it. Both will be part of the same overall product family, but Google will presumably figure out a way to distinguish between the two.

(Hat tip to Steve St. Germain)