Groupon’s growth has been nothing short of extraordinary, but it’s merely a small subset of an even larger category which I’d like to call online-to-offline commerce, or On2Off (O2O) commerce, in the vein of other commerce terms like B2C, B2B, and C2C.
Bear with me. The key to O2O is that it finds consumers online and brings them into real-world stores. It is a combination of payment model and foot traffic generator for merchants (as well as a “discovery” mechanism for consumers) that creates offline purchases. It is inherently measurable, since every transaction (or reservation, for things like OpenTable) happens online. This is distinctively different from the directory model (think: Yelp, CitySearch, etc) in that the addition of payment helps quantify performance and close the loop—more on that later.
In retrospect, the fact that this is “big,” or that Groupon has been able to grow high-margin revenues faster than almost any other company in the history of the Internet, seems pretty obvious. Your average ecommerce shopper spends about $1,000 per year. Let’s say your average American earns about $40,000 per year. What happens to the other $39,000? (The delta is higher when you consider that ecommerce shoppers are higher-income Americans than most, but the point is the same).
Answer: most of it (disposable income after taxes) is spent locally. You spend money at coffee shops, bars, gyms, restaurants, gas stations, plumbers, dry-cleaners, and hair salons. Excluding travel, online B2C commerce is largely stuff that you order online and gets shipped to you in a box. It’s boring, although the ecommerce industry has figured out an increasing number of items to sell online (witness Zappos’s success with shoes: $0->$1B in 10 years, or BlueNile’s with jewelry).