30 March 2011

Indian updates

Okay, so I have plenty in my journal that I need to transcribe to take you all on my Indian journey but I had to laugh heartily at getting THIS today from Groupon.
Fantastic! And for a restaurant we love to go to for lunch at work.

But someone let the owners get creative with writing their copy for the daily deal.  Lost in translation?  You decide.  Here's the text that came with the offer today:

"Indian food is quickly becoming one of America's most popular ethnic cuisines, as evidenced by the upsurge in new restaurants and the nationwide fervor over chutney trading cards. Get a seat on the bandwagon with today’s Groupon: for $20, you get $40 worth of Indian cuisine at the Indian Harvest Restaurant, located in Naperville.
The restaurant's expansive menu takes taste buds on a tour of India’s famous, mouth-drenching dishes. Rev up jowl bones with appetizers, including dahi bhalla, soft lentil puffs soaked in spiced yogurt and topped with coriander leaves ($4.95), or vegetable samosas ($3.50). Lamb specials such as gosht chili masala, cooked with hot spices, herbs, and green chilies ($13.95), and tandoor -roasted items that include tandoori chicken ($14.95), let patrons use their canine teeth for more than snarling at mail carriers. Herbivores can dive into vegetarian dishes, such as the eggplant-rich baghara baingan ($10.95), and employ naan ($2) as a makeshift visor while catching scenic lake views from the dining room."
Now, I need to know what this nationwide fervor over chutney trading cards is!!  Also, given my weight, I'm not a fan of the world jowl but hey, I get what you're groovin'.  But when you start digging into my canine teeth, I need to stop you right there because I only snarl at the mail carrier when he delivers me bills.  I'll leave the rest of the time for snarling by my beloved golden retriever.

Lastly, I've been to this restaurant several times and unless the scenic lake views are new paintings on the walls, there's only a retention pond across the street by the Wonder Bread outlet store.

I love it.  So there is the arc in my blog.  Two entries ago was about the Groupon craze and I've brought a little bit of India into the mix.

Therefore, "Look with your glazing eyes soon to the wondrous words of a babbling idiot who will beautifully summarize his daily, mysterious adventures in the homeland known as India.  It will be material you can sink your molars into like a masticating big black bear in the open spaces of Montana"  ;-p

20 March 2011

The next Airline bailout

The next time US-based Airlines ask for a bailout or for increased fees and tariffs, I think we need a little collective bargaining for the passengers.

So Congress passes the Passenger Bill of Rights, but ultimately that's window dressing on the core problems.

Running an airline supposedly means that you're expertise is logistics.  Logistics, in this case, of moving human beings and cargo around America and the world.  Supposedly.

Well, people, we're an ornery bunch and since we all have brains in our heads we can pretty much make sure that we're getting on the right flight and usually end up in the right place.  But our luggage, well, those poor bastards don't even have a brain.  They are helpless bug kill on the windshield of airline transportation.

As you can guess, my luggage has been lost on a relatively important trip to New York City.  I have no idea how one bag, checked in at the AA Premium Status desk at the 2nd busiest airport in the world (ORD) on a direct flight to LGA doesn't make it there.  In fact, all the bags made it except mine and another poor fella.

How can people who are supposedly masters of logistics be so poor at it?  How, in a day where someone's blow-up doll being shipped by FedEx or UPS can be scanned and tracked multiple times across this fine land of ours with almost GPS-like precision, do the airlines who make infinitely more money have no clue where my bag is after it was put on the treadmill at O'Hare?  They just don't give a rat's ass AND you have to pay for it (unless you have status, are flying business class or flying Southwest!)

I watched with amazement how, in almost Third Reich fashion, people were getting their carry-ons pulled out of line when boarding this afternoon.  In fact, even I thought a few of them were questionable.  But the airlines are forcing people to go this way.  Since a carry-on bag stays with it's owner (see above where I mention that we have brains and make sure we get from one place to another in spite of the airline) it too makes it to its destination and there's no careless behavior going on behind the doors we're not allowed in.

It's truly a catch-22 of travel.  Can't bring that huge carry-on that you know will make it there, so you have to check it where it'll get lost, so then you'll have to bring carry-on again.

What I can't fathom is that they put stickers on every piece of luggage that have bar codes and unique bag-tag numbers.  When I check out in ANY retail store nowadays, they have hand-held scanners that are wireless and they can scan the UPC codes on larger, awkward items in my cart.  There are numerous softwares that can be used to manage logistics.  How, in the millions of dollars they charge for flying can an airline not afford to put these all together?  If I had the wherewithal, I'd be banging on boardroom doors proposing a new system and charging a fair price for it.

Our government can detect whether or not I have 4 oz of shampoo in my carry-on but a big logistics company has no f*@&ing clue where a 38lb bag is??

Oh Wilbur and Orville, why have you cursed us so?  Flight was BORN in this country and the current US entities are doing everything they can to kill it a very slow, painful death.  Please note in the following graphic, there is not ONE instance of a bag going astray due to the customer/passenger.  And they want to know why everyone is cramming on their carry-ons?????

This is likely where my bag is, although I highly doubt US-based airlines would even know how to get above the Earth's atmosphere.

19 March 2011

Half-off overload - let's not kill a good thing please

No one can say that Groupon hasn't been a wildly successful venture and as a Chicago-based company I'm super happy for them and it sheds more light on some of the great, creative thinking that comes out of our region.

Of course, where there's huge success follows all the copycats and knock-offs.

One could argue that Groupon already was a knock-off from restaurant.com or from a lot of local, extremely local radio stations who used to run the 50-70% off gift certificate programs on Saturday mornings and that would be fair.  In fact, anyone who has bought an Entertainment book in the last 20+ years knows that deals can be found everywhere.

But nothing has taken a foothold more quickly than Groupon.  Beyond the billions of dollars being thrown at them from Google and others, they probably get a VC offer once a week that could be enough money to feed Haiti for 5 years or longer.

They've definitely had their missteps and this past week at SXSW one of their clients (Uber) decided to air some of those grievances on a panel.  Interestingly enough there were several Groupon staffers in the audience who took exception to this and addressed some of the issues, in fact, admitting that they've likely grown faster than their operations can handle.

However the latest issues I've noticed aren't with Groupon itself.  It's with the hyper-aggressive sales forces that Groupon, Living Social, Yelp, OpenTable and soon to be Facebook, etc. have been hiring.  They are out in huge numbers as commissioned sales folks tend to be.  As admitted at the SXSW panel, in fact, the sales model and volumes are growing faster than they can grow the operations side which is causing major issues.

My biggest fear though is that there are businesses who really like this idea and are jumping on board left and right.  Good for consumers, however, when these businesses sign deals with ALL of the services as a user/consumer/target I'm getting multiple deals, frequently within a two day period for the same store/restaurant/service.  From a marketing plan stance, this isn't very smart and I'm realizing that the "sellers" aren't figuring this out and trying to control it.  It's a runaway boulder running down the hill.

Not only are the deals coming in successive days, they frequently aren't the same, most likely driven by the revenue share/service fee model for each company.  Again, as an end user this is sending a mixed message to me.  So I can get $50 of food for $25 today, but tomorrow I can only get $30 for $15??  Sure, EITHER option is nice during this economy but it starts cheapening the offer and muddying the message that the "seller" likely wants to its patrons both existing and new.

So what set me off on this rant?  Two specific events:
  • The fact that I got an offer for Botox treatments (same vendor) from Groupon and Living Social a day apart.  I guess at almost 45, I'm becoming the target market but it irritated me enough and,
  • One of our favorite restaurants, Claddagh having multiple different deals across THREE of these sites within 4 days.  Upon cashing one of these in the waiter humorously said "Well, I see we have a Groupon deal here".  I can't imagine the glut of these that the staffs are seeing.  Again, it's a good thing as it drives business but it could also be a bad thing for staff who might get screwed on tips by those cheap-asses out there.
So where does this leave us?  I'm not sure but given that the various services will not work together like an online publisher to space out the offers across the various networks (they are in competition and won't play nice) I think it's really important for businesses drinking the Kool-Aid to manage their own marketing plans AS WELL AS trying out only ONE of the services first to see the revenue/operating profit impact on their business.

Deep discounts are great for foot traffic but with 2000 50% off coupons sold on Groupon and 1500 40% off on Living Social and so on, any decent level of conversion could hit a business hard in the pocketbook until the true level of repeat triers can be validated.  Meaning, the Groupon got them in the door the first time, do they come back without a Groupon the next time OR were all the Groupons already bought by existing customers?  If you cannabilize your existing revenue stream without a fairly decent uptick in NEW revenue it's ultimately a bad deal.  See Navy Pier issue from December 2010.

Usually it's buyer beware, but this time around I truly feel it's seller beware!