White label deal purveyor Nimble Commerce has taken a page from the online advertising industry’s book, rolling out an offers exchange this morning to play matchmaker between local publishers and sales forces. Called Nimble Network, the product takes its cues from the ad exchanges that have come to dominate the online advertising world, and applies this thinking to the deals space, creating an efficient and automated marketplace for excess inventory. The model isn’t new to the deals space — companies like Tippr operate similar exchanges — but it’s a potentially viable alternative for the fledgling, vertical model pioneered by Groupon.
Today, the network will expand from a handful of early partners, which included the San Francisco Chronicle and supplier Sweet Jack, to all Nimble Commerce clients. Kevin Wray, SVP of sales for the company, tells Street Fight that one of the defining aspects of the Nimble Network is its “bi-directionality,” in that publishers can use the network to source deals as well as distribute excess inventory.
“We think this might be the model that ends up succeeding in the long-term,” said Wray about the network. “It opens up new avenue for those to get into the discount economy that couldn’t before. Its easy for pure-play publishers and suppliers to have a role in the [promotions] ecosystem without having to do all the heavy lifting.”
Easing that “heavy lifting” implies a wider segmentation of the industry, which would see a decline in end-to-end daily deals companies like Groupon, as well as a decrease in direct sales from local publishers. While segmentation lends to a more efficient and scalable ecosystem, the question is whether the local commerce sector is at a place where market maturity is in more demand than product innovation.
“If you look at the [online] advertising industry, it hasn’t evolved at all,” said Wray. “The latest thing that has come that industry is Flash, which was mid-Y2K.” Wrath points to loyalty and redemption as areas that will continue to see innovation as far as the local commerce space is concerned, but says that outside of improvements in targeting, the model is likely to remain static. “What we’re talking about is a website with a buy button – and that’s likely not going to evolve,” he added.
And the industry’s evolution over the past 18 months largely supports Wray’s outlook. As the local marketing space fragments, the demand for merchant marketing services — either through direct sales or an integrated platform — is growing. But it’s unclear if the exchange model is the most effect means of managing that fragmentation.
The crux of the issue is whether the ecommerce promotion should be viewed as a transactable ad unit — essentially a banner with a buy button — or something markedly different. If it’s the former, the deals space will likely see a downward pressure on margins as the product becomes commoditized, and other premium assets like the value of publisher brand becomes a non-factor in pricing. But unlike in the national arena, hyperlocal marketing campaigns require a more integrated approach that goes far deeper into the consumer life cycle than a one-off, exchange model may afford.
Steven Jacobs is deputy editor at Street Fight.