Friday, February 25, 2011

Start-Up Watch COD: Order up! Village Vines offers a different take on group couponing

Thanks to the ad:tech blog for publishing this first.

When I first read the concept for Village Vines, I was intrigued because they seem to have a distinctive spin on the mega hot group couponing trend. It's different in part because it's vertical -- delivering offers focused on fine dining restaurants. Foodies can join the site and get daily offers from some of the better restaurants in a city.

But there are a bunch of other unique characteristics as well.

The specifics of the promos are standardized, and it's a good deal but won't break the bank of the businesses. Essentially, you choose an offer, make a reservation from the available dates, and pay $10 now for a 30% discount when you visit the restaurant. Naturally, restaurants are going to use this to fill tables that would ordinarily sit empty. So it'll often (but not always) be on lower traffic days of the week, or at the beginning or end of the mealtimes. Additionally, new restaurants could sell discounts at all times to drive trial from a really food involved customer base.

There is a featured offer each day, but the offers aren't one day wonders. You'll want to book today to get the best times and dates is all. When you visit the site, you see the daily offer first, but recent offers lie below based upon the continued availability of tables within the promo period. What impresses me about this approach is that it offers a good value, but we aren't going to read about restaurants going under from the discount. Further, the reservation component ensures that the diner can actually have a decent dining experience -- the crowd is regulated and spread across the night. No lines of 300 people wanting that $2 chicken burrito supreme.

Oh, and cheap daters rejoice -- the discount is automatically applied to your bill -- you don't need to whip out that coupon and look the total schlub to your would be squeeze. Because no woman -- or man -- has ever said, "Coupons are sexy."

Focusing on foodies is also a strong idea -- there are lots of foodies that will well appreciate a discount, and be happy to go out on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday in order to get to that pricey eatery.The $10 fee also appears to be a good place to be -- a $10er is pretty easy to part with for the promise of a discount later in the week. Village Vines is a restaurant play only, but I have focused on them here as an illustration of how the group couponing space will likely evolve and niche out as more and more players enter the space. In the coming weeks I know we are going to be seeing more of these specialty sites emerging. The concept is too big to focus solely on 75% offers. Lots of small and large businesses won't wear that sort of discount. But as a tool to fill empty seats -- or aisles -- or beds, this kind of program and deal structure holds significant promise.

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