6 Self-Service Platforms to Help Merchants Maintain Control Over Daily Deals

Having worked with half a dozen of the top deal publishers in the past two years, Savvy Cellar Wines owner Brent Harrison is well versed in the benefits of daily deal promotions. He’s also aware of the drawbacks. In exchange for the privilege of working with deal companies like Groupon and LivingSocial, Harrison feels he’s given up some control of the deals he offers. For Harrison and other merchants tired of dealing with low profit margins and limits on the restrictions they can apply to these deals, self-service platforms may be the solution.

Self-service platforms give merchants more control over their deals, including how much they make. But what you get in the details you lose in reach. Instead of relying on a deal company’s massive database of prospective customer email addresses, merchants using self-service platforms have to get creative. Some platforms require that merchants supply their own customer contact information, while others provide ways to reach new clients through social networking or by partnering with established hyperlocal vendors.

For business owners up to the task of developing and managing their own daily deals, here are six self-service platforms worth checking out.

1. DealingLocal
DealingLocal is all about the now, letting merchants set up real-time discounts for new and existing customers. Rather than paying commission to a company like Groupon, DealingLocal merchants pay a monthly subscription fee (from $19 to $49) based on the number of registered customers on their marketing lists. Merchants with fewer than 50 customers on their marketing lists can use the service for free. The company also offers a co-marketing solution that neighborhood merchants can use to cross-promote one another’s ongoing deals.

2. Signpost
Don’t have a large database of emails? No problem. Signpost helps SMBs create their own offers with fees that are much lower than traditional deal sites and promotes its clients’ deals through partnerships with Yellow Pages, AOL, and Google. Signpost also offers businesses a way to get their deals posted by publishers like Tippr and Dealster for significantly less than the 50% commission fee deal companies typically charge. Basic plans with Signpost start at $99 per month.

3. Rally Commerce
Rally Commerce is for online merchants only and requires clients to set up a store on Rally’s social commerce platform before creating and publishing deals through a variety of channels. The platform guides merchants through the process of creating deals tabs on their Facebook pages, where they can promote their offers to fans online. Like many self-service platforms, Rally Commerce gives merchants access to all the customer data that’s collected when customers redeem their deals. Merchants can expect to pay 10 percent commission fees to Rally Commerce, which is significantly less than the 50% or more required by companies like Groupon.

4. Pageable
Pageable handles the design, programming, and hosting of deals, and ensures that every deal page theme comes with a built-in lead capture form. The rest is up to you. This self-serve system lets users create, update, and post deals at any time. Lead capture forms can be linked to Constant Contact or MailChimp accounts for follow-up with customers who’ve purchased their instant deals online. Pageable pricing ranges from $24 to $199 per month, depending on the number of deals a merchant decides to publish.

5. Deal Share
Businesses that rely heavily on Facebook for marketing will want to check out Deal Share, a self-service application from North Social that can be used to launch special deals and offers on Facebook fan pages. Deal Share’s deal customization tools let local merchants place useful restrictions on their offers, like limiting the number for sale and the length of time that a deal is live. The service is especially useful for businesses that want to increase their number of Facebook fans, since deal buyers are required to “like” a merchant’s page before interacting with current deals. Merchants can choose from a handful of pricing plans ranging from $19.99 to $149.99 per month based on their Facebook fan counts and customer support needs.

6. GoSteals
When it comes to rock bottom pricing, it’s hard to beat GoSteals. The self-service platform is 100% free for merchants to use. GoSteals doesn’t actually accept payments for the deals on its site, but instead invites customers to print out the deals they find and pay the merchants directly upon redemption. Although merchants don’t have quite as many options when designing and distributing deals through GoSteals, they still retain control of the biggies, like timing, value, and customer contact information.

Have other self-service platforms to note? Leave a description in the comments.

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  1. January 31, 2012

    Good summary, Stephanie.  I’d certainly add Closely.com into the mix, with a caveat. 

    The vast majority of merchants do not have the time, desire or (often) skill/comfort with a DIY approach.  

    The “DIY opportunity” is, in part, exaggerated by the cream skim pricing of early entrants.  As we all know, these 50% margins are not holding, and as they creep down, the incentive for merchants to self-serve diminishes. 

    All to say, yes – we’ve developed a self-service platform for merchants, but with an “agent layer” that powers a cooperative model between the merchant role/activity and the services provided by agency and channel partners. 

    The distribution network is also absolutely critical, as you’ve noted.  Relying on social media, or even  email lists collected over time by SMB’s, will very rarely deliver lead volumes desired by merchants.  

    And, finally – the value in merchant centered solutions is not in a cheaper version of daily deals – it is in the power of an integrated and simplified approach to promotion marketing that embraces customer, social, search and premium distribution. 

    It’s about demonstrable value through yield management and converting obtuse ad spend models into more powerful commerce and return engagement marketing practices. 

  2. Brooks
    January 31, 2012

    I’d like to introduce Qwikon.com to the mix as well. We have a slightly different approach. Qwikon has taken the KISS approach in developing a solution for SMBs to manage their own deal offerings. Leveraging the immediacy of text messaging with a simple to use interface, a merchant can create and send a deal to their opt-in customer base in under a minute. 97% of text messages are read in minutes, and text based coupons have redemption rates in the 10-30% range.

    Using Qwikon, a business can now fill capacity almost in real time. Our focus is on helping SMBs increase their customers lifetime value through improved communications, not giving away the store!

  3. Rick
    January 31, 2012

    Good article. Agree with perry evans re closely.com.

  4. January 31, 2012

    Great article Stephanie, and thanks for including Signpost. I agree with all Perry Evans is saying, in particular re seeing most of these services as broader and more meaningful than just deals and also that pure DIY is not a great fit with local businesses. At Signpost we call our approach an “assisted self-serve” platform where we ask merchants to provide the basic information about their business, and we then develop a marketing campaign and offer that is attractive to our publishers and their audience of local consumers.

  5. Anonymous
    February 1, 2012

    Stephanie – you’ve hit a hot topic and I’d like to echo the sentiments from Perry, Jacco and Rick.  Additionally, it would be fitting to add both Privy (my company, in full disclosure) and perhaps ThinkNear to the mix (shout out to Ely).

    There are three main issues in this space: (1) deal/promotion creation (content and quality), (2) Distribution network, (3) Payment structure

    (1) It is true that business owners do not have the time to construct their own deals.  Many very small businesses (>10 employees) barely have time to talk to someone about setting up a deal they want, whether that’s an agency, consultant or sales rep.  At Privy, we have developed an auto-suggester, that offers a promotions suggestion against your intent, a little basic information on your business and historic best practice data so you can be up and running a smart promotion in just 2 clicks.

    (2) The second issue is distribution – depending on what the merchant wants (acquisition vs loyalty) different networks are in order.  We’ve learned that while it is important to acquire new customers, it can be costly and the customers can be inconsistent after their first visit, especially is the distribution list isn’t curated to the business and is, therefore, low quality customers..  ThinkNear does an excellent job getting customers who are close to a store and in a buying mindset (e.g. Hungry) to come visit immediately.  

    We’ve also been told by tons of small businesses that there is substantial value in re-engaging high quality, existing customers to come back more frequently, which costs less and can be substantially more profitable to businesses.  That’s why we created a system that allows businesses to launch and track any custom promotion in just one click across their website, Facebook page, twitter following and email database that is transactable online.  It also incentivizes consumers who view the promotion to share it, to engage word of mouth marketing with a call to action.

    (3) 5 of the above services require you to pay a monthly fee.  If you talk to small businesses, especially brick and mortar ones, they are hesitant to pay for something before they know it will work – $99 a month is steep price to pay before knowing you’ll get a huge ROI from it.  We’ve found that aligning the pricing structure with the success of a merchant (in the form of a low transaction fee) is much more convenient for businesses and also helps them succeed by being cost promotive.

    In all, there are a plethora of options and it depends on what a business wants.  If they are looking for flash sales of product they want to liquidate, that’s very different than driving deep loyalty or finding exclusively new customers that live within a specific radius of their home.

    Perry nailed it – it’s all about demonstrable value.  If a merchant does not have to spend a lot of time, nor outlay a lot of cash, to run a promotion that will drive quality customers into their store, it is a home run.

  6. Stephanie_Miles
    February 1, 2012

    Jacob, you make a lot of good points. A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work with SMB marketing, and the platform a business chooses really has to depend on what its goals are going into the promotion (as well as its willingness to stomach the costs). Privy, ThinkNear, Closely, and Quikon are all great platforms that serve merchants in slightly different ways based on their needs. This piece focused strictly on deal platforms for local merchants going the DIY route, but obviously that isn’t a route that every merchant is going to feel comfortable taking. In the coming weeks I’m planning on doing more pieces on deal platforms suited for merchants with all different types of needs. I’d love to get your recommendations on any others I should consider, as well as any trends/issues you’re hearing from the merchants themselves.

    1. Anonymous
      February 6, 2012

      Stephanie – thanks for the response and my apologies in not responding sooner as I just saw that you posted.  I’d love to chat.  What’s the best way to reach you?  I’m available at jake@getprivy.com.  Would love to chat.  – J

  7. Lauren Meyers
    February 3, 2012

    Stephanie – thanks for the shout out to DealingLocal (my company). 

    Whether DIY or Full Service, deal services biggest shortcoming is distribution. Aside from Groupon and LivingSocial, no deal provider can afford the mass marketing to attract enough consumer attention to be relevant at the local level.

    Re-targeting existing customers may be effective for businesses that have a large social following or email list. However I am skeptical that many merchants will pay commissions for selling to their existing customers.

    To get around the chicken-and-egg problem of deal and consumer inventory, we provide the tools for local businesses to build their own networks. We give them online signup forms and offline signage to grow their customer network. We also help them build a network of local merchants to reach a new audience of ‘regulars’ shopping in their area.

    I’m not going to be buying Groupon stock, but hopefully their success has demonstrated that online marketing can be effective for offline merchants.

     

  8. Sebastián Gómez
    June 7, 2013

    Excellent tips. It is important to have the right tools. I recommend you Trisocial ( http://www.trisocial.com ) they have an extensive suite of apps to customize the fanpages and to do contests and promotions and to launch special deals and offers on Facebook fan pages. Regards!

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Street Fight Daily: 01.31.12