The new ability to search Google Coupons offers an intriguing glimpse through the window into the world of Google’s coupon efforts. Coupons have the potential to both drive local usage and further monetize local business data for Google. With internet search, Coupons could provide a new interface/access point for visitation and searching of local business data. It is easy to imagine a link at the top of the main Google search page or a link for coupons in the Local OneBox results that bargain hunters used regularly. With any number of web 2.0 technologies, Google could spread coupons across the internet as well. In fact the ready availability of coupons on Google might broaden the use of coupons in general.
Coupons could also provide a means of monetizing Goog-411(and SMS & Google Maps) service by providing pay per call coupons directly to your cell phone. Ad supported free 411 services (like Jingle 411) are intrusive. A service though that offered an optional, relevant coupon to a 411 inquiry would probably be welcomed by its users.
However, since Google Coupons has been introduced, why has Google been so reticent to promote coupons? And how successful has Google been at gathering coupons since the programs inception? Just how many coupons are there and how many were created by the small businesses using Google’s Local Business Center?
Many observers point out the obvious lack of visibility for coupons within Google as they are at least two clicks away from the main results page. Timeliness of posting coupons is a problem as well. For example it may take several weeks for an update to occur in the Local Business Center for coupons to be visible. This obviously leaves a merchant with a time sensitive coupon unable to use the system effectively.
A larger problem is the lack of a significant number of coupons. The new Google Coupon Search feature offers some interesting insight into Google’s “coupon inventory” and demonstrates the problem with gathering enough coupons to make the service truly useful. The following searches were performed in the new Google Coupon search by city alone and by “city + Valpak” to determine how many of the coupons within a given search were created by the coupon company as opposed to by a business itself.
|Search||Total Coupons for search “City”||Total for “City + Valpak”||Notes|
|New York City||536||410||Note: these searches roughly take you to the last record of each search|
|San Francisco||580||200||The way that Google forms the url allows you to easily find the last record in any given search.|
|Chicago.||519||165||It would be interesting to know the industry breakdown of the coupons.|
|Olean, NY||12||1||5 of these were created by me, 2 were created by a corporate hq and 2 were created by computer technology businesses. No more than 3 and perhaps none were created by the small businesses themselves.|
The low numbers of coupons for large metropolitan areas clearly indicates that the many local retail businesses have yet to take advantage of the Google Local Business Center. Franchise outlets or central headquarters have only a modest presence. Within the results above Google listed a number of coupons from surrounding communities so the actual totals are lower than shown. If large urban areas and adjacent communities like NYC, San Francisco or Chicago can each only generate 500 coupons since the inception of Google Coupons 14 months ago, there is a long way to go before adequate inventory will be available.
Roughly 50% (and over 75% in NYC) of the coupons that are available have been created by ValPak, some additional (not insignificant %) are done by corporate hq’s and local web professionals. Obviously self provisioning has not been an effective strategy for Google to develop a coupon inventory. I know that in my market I have created client coupons and I assume that other web professionals in other large urban area have as well. Thus even fewer businesses than my numbers indicate are actually self provisioning.
The recent movement by Google moving GoogleCoupons.com domain names to their servers and their recently upgraded coupon search indicate that Google is continuing to develop their coupons product and may imply that that are contemplating an increase in its reach.
It is obvious that they could easily solve the visibility issue by putting a link into the Local OneBox results and they can probably solve the timeliness issue (it is likely that bulk upload already solves it). But it appears that they can’t, by themselves, solve the coupon inventory issue.
How many coupons is enough for Google is anyones guess. But it seems to me that until Google can can create more coupon partnerships like ValPak’s or induces more business participation in the Local Business Center, it will be some time before there is a significant coupon inventory.