Yearly Archives: 2010

Deals: #1 Growth Area for San Diego Union Tribune

Deal-a-day group buying is a certain hit. But how important is it in the scheme of things for local media companies? For The San Diego Union Tribune, deals represented “the number one new revenue growth,” in 2010, according to Mike Hodges,VP of Interactive for the newspaper company, who was quoted in a recent UT article by Tamara Chuang.

More than 15 companies actively market deals in the San Diego area, and Hodges told Chuang that the market ought to take in over $40 million in 2011. The UT is apparently grabbing a healthy share of those revenues, with a daily deal email list topping 200,000 readers.

For the UT, however, deals are just part of a broader marketing platform for email opt-in users. Other components include daily member promotions, typically for local resorts or retailers; and weekly deal mails, including deals from two San Diego-area vendors: BuxBack, which gives users money back on their credit card when they support registered merchants; and TipCity, a mobile deals provider for restaurants.

New Era for Local Shopping Portals; Travidia Launches ‘FindnSave’

Shopping portals have moved beyond “federated search,” and now combine the best of daily deals, coupons, weekly ads and other promotional information in ways that are more efficient — and drive more shopping.

At the national level, Gannett’s ShopLocal.com has been moving in this direction for some time. At the local level, we’ve recently seen the launch of Local.com’s multi-pronged shopping portal. The daily deal and coupon aggregators such as The Deal Map, 8Coupons, Deal Radar and Yipit probably also qualify as shopping portals, too.

New to the game is FindnSave.com, an effort by Travidia, the digital media vendor that works with 700 newspapers. Two McClatchy sites are currently launched: The Sacramento Bee and The Kansas City Star. Next up are McClatchy newspaper sites in Charlotte, Fort Worth, Fresno and Tacoma.

Travidia Chief Marketing Officer James Green says the newspaper sites have seen an immediate and dramatic increase from their previous shopping areas, which had a lot of information but were not presenting shopping information as efficiently. “They caused consumers to go off in a million directions,” he notes. “Consumers just want the best deal, regardless of the source.”

With newspapers, however, one size doesn’t fit all, Green emphasizes. Some newspapers have different vendor deals locked in, while others want to emphasize different types of information. Both The Sac Bee and KC Star, for instance, feature Groupon deals, Milo.com inventory information and standard features such as a Twitter board of local shopping Tweets.

But The Sac Bee also opted to include online coupons, while the KC Star opted out of online coupons. Such customization isn’t always easy to pull off: most shopping related vendors don’t have an API that can make them easier to plug in their feed.

The result is that FindnSave has been developed as more of a customizeable platform, rather than a turnkey site. Its primary feature is the development of “search blocks” that are integrated on top of the database, and extract relevant information.

Is it better than the competition? Green believes that FindnSave has a competitive edge via the newspapers’ localized information, plus the deep integration of the platform. Eventually, it will integrate various types of shopper-related content as well, such as local shopping blogs, ratings and reviews.

Another asset cited by Green is FindnSave’s easy verticalization, which can be used to create entirely new online vertical properties. The Sac Bee , for instance, is using the product to create a dedicated grocery portal. The portal will feature a slightly different User Interface, as well as a combination of newspaper and syndicated content.

Ultimately, FindnSave has been “ten years in the making for us,” says Green. “It’s been a natural evolution. The bottom line is we are not trying to facilitate e-commerce; we are trying to facilitate in-store traffic.”

Is Online Inventory Really Here (and Monetizable?) PaperG Teams with WishPond

The ability to track retail inventory has been on the retail wish list for years. Retailers advertise goods, and then disappoint customers when they don’t have them in stock. Or they have loads of stock in the store, and don’t know they need to promote it to deplete it. Or they have a lot of inventory in one location, but can’t steer customers to the right store.

Solutions have been in the works for some time, for various functions and purposes. Some have been telecom-oriented. McDonalds, for instance, started keeping track of Big Macs and Double Cheeseburgers in 1990 vis ISDN. Most, however, have been relatively primitive phone-in efforts.

In 2006, for instance, Stepup, which is now part of Intuit’s Homestead, showed the way for online inventory management by letting stores fill out inventory on a spreadsheet. A sophisticated, contemporary effort has been mounted by Krillion, which provides inventory for computers, electronics, cameras, appliances and other goods, while selling advertising around it.

More recently, we’ve also seen Milo.com develop an inventory solution for both national and local players. WishPond is pursuing a similar strategy. The timing for both companies appears to be ripe. Milo.com was purchased two weeks ago by eBay for $75 million.

Milo has integrated with various media partners, such as The Sacramento Bee. Today, WishPond announced a partnership to do the same with PaperG, which builds display ads on the fly for a large list of newspapers. In this case, PaperG will be able to spec out a display ad based on inventory availability (i.e. “denim hats at Davey’s Army Navy store”). Customers of its PlaceLocal service can utilize the service.

PaperG CEO Victor Wong tells us that WishPond’s solution lets PaperG and its media partners get down to the product level for both national chains and for local stores. Roughly a quarter of its advertisers are local SMBs, he notes. Using WishPond, “toys are ads,” he says.

“The next natural evolution to local display advertising is to show what stores and products are available within driving distance of the consumer,” Wong added, in a statement. “Ad units that allow consumers to find information on local product availability can dramatically improve the offline conversion rates of shoppers.”

Hyperlocal in 2011: A Break in the Clouds?

I take great delight in the Carlsbad Patch updates on my smartphone every morning. And the Fwix local App on my iPad. But why do I feel they are my “guilty pleasures?” Because there is a rap out there that hyperlocal doesn’t scale and these are toys.

Is it still the case?

Patch now has a local presence in 600 communities, with editorial and sales “pods” of 12 each Some of being run by longtime newspaper industry leaders (such as former SignOn San Diego leader Chris Jennewein and ex NAA New Media Federation staffer Beth Lawton).

Last Sunday, LA Times media columnist James Rainey wrote that Patch is revitalizing local journalism and asserted that may have become THE place for journalists to go (aside from wages of $35k-$50k, or half the salary that big city journalists might have gotten from the big metro, if they were hiring).

That’s fine by Patch President Warren Webster. At ILM:10, Webster didn’t dispute my characterization of Patch as an experiment that wants to quickly get a national footprint to attract national, regional and local advertisers; create a business directory that goes beyond the Yellow Pages; and scale editorial and sales resources.

On a macro-level, local ad revenues typically split 50/50 between targeted national and local. For Webster (and cohorts Jon Brod of AOL Ventures, and AOL Chief Tim Armstrong), the bet is that Patch is poised to do both. They’ve publicly said they were spending $50 million to ramp it up in 2010.

Sites such as Main Street Connect and Hello Metro are going down much the same path – although they likely aren’t as focused on winning national dollars as yet. Main Street Connect in the NY Metro area has raised $4 million for its effort, and recently signed up Carl Lavin from The Philadelphia Inquirer (and more recently, Forbes) to run its own editorial pods. Many single city efforts have also launched, such as Allbritton’s TBD.com in the Washington Metro area.

Sales aren’t guaranteed for any of these. It remains tough to get through to SMBs – note the partial retreat of The New York Times, which offloaded The Local, its hyperlocal effort.

But for the sites that green-light hyperlocal, the hypothesis is they’ll get to local advertisers with local sales forces, and advertisers will follow an audience – especially the affluent, suburban audience targeted in many of these sites. Which brings us to the biggest question for 2011. It isn’t about sales quotas. That’s premature. It’s the audience question.

The audience question is a big “if.” Some of the sites hope to differentiate themselves with audiences via higher quality, more targeted local content or better mapping. But they face super-fragmentation, with at least five or six sources of “good enough” local info, as well as possibly declining user interest in local news in an age of urban sprawl. It is an issue made even more complex by aggregators, where they all feature each other’s content.

Sites that are focused more on geographic aggregation for media partners, such as Topix, Outside.in. Fwix, Datasphere and Everyblock. Local event and news site such as AmericanTowns.com, Center’d and DiscoverOurTown are also part of the mix.

Some of the aggregators are also supported by unique user generated content and pro/amateur content farms, such as Examiner.com, Associated Content, Demand Media, Helium, Merchant Circle studios and others.

Examiner.com, by itself, may actually have many times the traffic of a Patch, as CEO Rick Blair notes. Yahoo’s $100 million acquisition of Associated Content this year may have similar implications. So as we end 2010, and think about 2011, do we think that hyperlocal is going to begin to cut it? One assumes there will inevitably be a shakeout and shut-downs in the coming year. And there will also be smarter ways to economize via user generated content and aggregation. The all purpose use of the “hyperlocal” term will also fall by the wayside.

But if more of us find our guilty pleasures from checking out the hyperlocal news on our smart phones and our iPads, and sneaking peeks on our PCs during the day – there is simply no reason to think it will generally fail.

eBay Firms Up Local Strategies

In case you haven’t noticed, eBay has been ramping up a local strategy in the past few months via the integration of all its vertical properties with its home site, the $75 million purchase of Milo.com, and today, a $200 million acquisition of Brands4Friends, a fashion-oriented, German ecommerce site with 3.5 million members and 200 employees.

EBay’s efforts to acquire new local and vertical properties and integrate them with the home site is a perfectly logical growth strategy. Despite its perceived decline in the marketplace, eBay in 3Q 2010 saw two billion U.S. product searches – well ahead of competitors such as Amazon, which saw 847 million product searches, and Google, which handled 226 million product searches over the same period.

The push into local certainly represents a major change for the company. In the last 1990s, eBay backed off of a comprehensive local strategy when it determined that a “Local Trading “ feature concentrating on items that were too heavy to ship (i.. sofas) didn’t have the traction to really work. Instead, it concentrated on building up eBay Motors, while adding various other verticals, such as Rent.com, an apartments site, StubHub, the ticket scalping site, and various classified services, such as Kijiji (eBay Classifieds), initially developed as a Craig’s List lookalike service.

More recently, eBay worked on a new prototype for a comprehensive local portal, using eBay Motors as a base, while including its various classifieds properties, as well as other services. But that effort seems to have gotten lost in the midst of major corporate changes.

Inevitably, however, eBay has continued to push up against local as it looked for paths to growth. Five years ago, it acquired a site that eventually became eBay Stores, which now competes with players such as Web.com.

Milo CEO and Founder Jack Abraham tells us that eBay is handling the absorption of his site at the highest level. CTO Mark Carges personally lead the acquisition effort, and VP of Engineering Dane Glasgow has been charged with the absorption. Abraham notes that the 25 person company’s small size makes it easy to move right onto the eBay campus. He also says that his team may be deployed on other eBay initiatives beyond local.

My Top 10 Takeaways from ILM:10

Our ILM:10 conference probably hit something of “a perfect storm” for the 681 senior level execs and entrepreneurs in attendance. While we’ve been cheerleading the local opportunity since the mid 1990s, the big money has now really focused on the local opportunity.

Amazon’s $175 million investment in Living Social and Google’s failed bid last week to buy Groupon for $6 billion really put things in perspective. During 2010, so did mega-investments from various VCs in everything from Yelp to Angie’s List.

At the end of the day, the takeaway from such an event depends on where we are coming from. Search experts David Mihm and Andrew Shotland certainly have their own view on things, as do social execs like Mike Orren and Sebastien Provencher. Here’s what I walk away with:

1- Google remains the elephant in the room. Google Places simultaneously democratizes the web by opening up more information sources, while weakening the dominance of major review aggregators like Yelp. But we don’t know yet whether Google will use the super fragmentation to support its own competitive position as it gets deeper into SMB and vertical marketing. Neither does Google.

2- Yelp and others can’t count too much on Google to drive its growth anymore. But it has 14 million reviews to leverage, and an alternative opportunity via the whole “App” channel on iPhones and other mobile devices. The App channel represents a major workaround of search, although it doesn’t strike me as being nearly as large.

3- Facebook represents new avenues for SMBs and others to engage consumers “in context.” 48.5 percent of SMBs apparently have a Facebook page (ok, some screwed up data there!) Regardless, some Yellow Pages and event site leaders that it is already more important than search. Aside from effective brand positioning, and discount promotions, however, it is almost entirely green field. But whatever the model, “local should be a layer across all products,” according to Facebook Local Leader Emily White. We’d buy into that.

4- Location Based Services such as FourSquare and Gowalla –and LBS features for major sites — currently rely on game-loving younger men. But as smart phone and tablet penetration zooms – ComScore sees 87 million users by 2013– they have real potential for building community and rewarding frequent users with promotions etc. This space is exploding fast.

5- The tie-ins between LBS and deal-a -day group buying models and other promotions seem clear – especially those that are heavily networked or syndicated. But can the audiences be combined? LBS is currently dominated by men, and deal a days, of course, are heavily dominated by women. It is not a long-term problem.

6- We think Google’s interest in Groupon was partly driven by its disruption of traditional sales channels. There are other interesting takes on how Groupon and other group buying efforts evolve, and incorporate search, Yellow Pages and other features.

7- SMB services may use deal a day as a base for other services. Groupon is pursuing this, and so is Nimble Commerce, Tippr, Adility, DealCurrent, Closely and many others. Angie’s List noted that it is using its Big Deal as a retention tool for advertisers. At the same time, the Big Deals result in more profiles and reports. A win-win all around. Cox Target Media’s Jim Sampey noted that deal a day becomes part of an arsenal to keeping SMBs engaged throughout the month.

8- Self-serve is no longer viewed as a holy grail that makes local selling viable on its own. It won’t. But it is increasingly part of the solution for many SMBs. As Yodle CEO Court Cunningham noted, “people pay with their time or with money. Cash-strapped SMBs “pay with time.”

9- Local content drives engaged users. Perfect Market’s Julie Schoenfeld notes that it will be especially important when content is tagged with “great meta data about when and where it is written.” Amen.

10- It isn’t “online media” anymore. Or “mobile media.” It’s all advertising, whether the format is Web, mobile, audio, video or banner. As Pandora’s Cheryl Lucanegro noted, a multi-media effort can also create multiple consumer experiences: branding, direct response, engagement and multi-screen. I am especially intrigued by multi-screen, as data shows that people are using their smartphones along with TV and laptop use.

ILM:10: Deals as an ‘E Commerce Platform’

In the context of Google’s reported $6 billion acquisition offer to Groupon, questions were raised at ILM:10 about the true potential of Deal a Day beyond its current two or three daily deals and banner ad emails. For Nimble Commerce CEO Prashant Nedungadi, the real potential is moving local advertising into performance based models.

“Group buying is just one model,” says Nedungadi. “There are lots of interesting kinds of models. We haven’t event gotten into search, or Yellow Pages. Imagine if it was part of the search experience. That’s what we’re excited about.”

Ultimately, Nedungadi adds, “we want to establish a strong relationship with consumers. At the end of the day, it is an ecommerce platform.”

Later, during another segment of The Deal a Day Superforum, 8Coupons.com CEO Landy Ung suggested another model is to provide featured listings. The site currently lists 1,000 deals a day. Some of the deal a day sites are providing aggregators like 8Coupons commissions of 10-35 percent. In that context, the real value lies in having offers discovered. They’ll pay more to be a featured listing on the top of curated categories, says Ung. “Our partners are asking us to optimize at the top. It is a whole new business model we haven’t tapped into.”

During the same session, The Deal Map‘s Jennifer Dulski noted there may be additional opportunities with mobile ecommerce. Fifty percent of The Deal Map’s usage is currently mobile, although only four percent of deals providers currently have mobile capabilities. That is bound to grow quickly, says Dulski, but more work needs to be done to ensure smooth transaction capabilities for not only online apps, but offline goods.

“The mobile transaction flow is very, very clunky,” says Dulski. The goal is to get to one click. The problem is that “Apple won’t use in app for anything other than virtual good. I predict they’ll change that within a year.”