Google Offers: Not a ‘Groupon Killer’ (But Still Pretty Killer)

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It’s been widely reported over the past few weeks that Google has launched a deals platform known as Offers. But most of this coverage has missed the point — falling into the tired but pervasive trope of “[insertnamehere] Killer” claims (in this case, Groupon).

Offers will be similar to Groupon in some ways, but its economics and mobile integration are quite different. Comparisons aside, the real story is how Offers plugs into Google’s massive distribution network of search, Gmail, mobile and about 26 other products.

But the biggest synergy will be with payments. The picture comes into focus when you look at the one-two punch of Offers and Wallet — launched within a week of each other. Together they’ll accelerate the mobility of deals, and solve longtime couponing issues along the way.

As background, Google Wallet will bring together Near Field Communications (NFC) and payment processing to let mobile users transact by tapping their phone at retail locations. NFC, for those unfamiliar, transmits a short range, high frequency signal to communicate transaction (or other) data.

Lots of moving parts have historically prevented this technology from achieving ubiquity, the biggest being a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. There’s device compatibility on one end, and costly point-of-sale hardware on the other. Retailer incentive to integrate the latter is a function of the former. But Google has essentially underwritten the implementation of this system by baking NFC into Android and supplying payment terminals to a growing list of retail partners. It also syncs with MasterCard (many others to come) and is compatible with 311,000 existing PayPass terminals.

Meanwhile, Google claims 50 percent of smartphones will have built-in NFC by 2014 — about 150 million phones. Currently, it’s just the Nexus S, but the open system will attract many other device manufacturers and it will issue stickers for non-compatible phones.

Nuts and bolts aside, the integration with Offers is where the story lies. As discussed in my previous column, it seems evident that deals’ manifestation in mobile will improve some of the longstanding deficiencies of coupons, and of newer evolutions like Groupon (i.e. margin compression).

One of these major challenges has been redemption, including coupon codes, fraud and requiring users to clip or print coupons. And a certain universal stigma looms, for both brands and individuals, around the admittedly déclassé domain of coupon clipping.

But with Wallet, Google will be able to reduce friction in deal collection and redemption by having it automatically tied to transactions. Through massive search distribution and other means, users will be able to seek out or discover deals and then “save to mobile.” From there, they carry around a personalized library of deals which are applied automatically at the point of sale. Reducing friction in this manner will do a lot to spur adoption both among users and — equally important — among advertisers.

The latter will be a function of clearer and more automatically tracked ROI. This stems from the fact that the same printout and redemption challenges plaguing user adoption also challenge merchant analytics and tracking. And for SMBs, simplicity is paramount.

But more than all of this, another angle being ignored is that this could really just be all about search. Put another way, the Payments/Wallet combo could be yet another “moat” to protect the key function that represents 97 percent of Google’s $30 billion in annual revenue. If Google can show that finished transactions resulted from paid search campaigns, a clearer ROI picture emerges. This translates to more search advertising and retention for a core revenue stream — especially in local, where Google remains challenged. Factor in Android’s exploding market share and the potential for search, discovery, and deal personalization are taken a step further. In that sense, the master plan comes into focus for one of the many — perhaps the biggest — endgames for the loss leader that is Android.

But the irony looming above all of this is the popular tech media and analyst corps’ rare understatement of a product launch’s gravity. To be fair, we’re talking about the triangulation of a few launches rather than one. Either way, it’s going to be huge.

Mike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0 and others. BIA/Kelsey’s Deals 3D conference will take place July 18-19 in San Francisco — Street Fight readers can use the promo code 3DSTREETFIGHT to receive $100 off registration.

Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at