Just Like Grouper Fish: Coupon Sites Devour Everything


This item was originally published on January 16th, 2010 at Fast Company.

In my last blog I joked that Groupon, a hugely popular local coupon site, adopt the grouper fish as its mascot. This was a joke, because as you can see, groupers are not at all cute. They have big mouths and swim slowly with their mouths open, vacuuming up prey when they can:

“Their mouth and gills form a powerful sucking system that sucks their prey in from a distance. They also use their mouth to dig into sand to form their shelters under big rocks, jetting it out through their gills. Their gill muscles are so powerful that it is nearly impossible to pull them out of their cave if they feel attacked and extend those muscles to lock themselves in.”

In case you hadn’t noticed, Groupon and sites like it have taken over consumer commerce, to the point where people I know won’t buy anything without a coupon–and when there’s a coupon they like, they’ll buy multiples. It’s hard to resist a 90 minute massage for $40, or a 63% discount on patio furniture. What about half off a sailing tour of Bodega Bay? And how about that deeply discounted private wine tasting in Sonoma?

Like grouper fish, these coupon sites are sucking people in and not letting go. Sometimes it’s just because the offers are too tempting; other sites offer a bit of charity with the greed, as does the hyperbolically named site, Screaming Daily Deals. (I joined because they give some of their proceeds to my kid’s school.) In common with all of them are two guaranteed bait factors:

1. You are getting a special, secret, never-before-offered, too-good-to-be-true deal and
2. You have to buy it NOW. No pressure. But if you don’t click soon you’ll miss this once-in-a lifetime opportunity!!

The names of many coupon sites play directly on point 1:

Doozy Of A Deal
Deal Stork
Deadly Deal
Deal A Day
Deal A Day Golf
Deals N Deals
Double Dog Deal
Easy Street Deals
The Deal Today
The Now Deal

We love our deals, do we not?

Besides the awesome bargains, the other reason why the coupon sites are so popular is because they’re local–targeted to you and your neighborhood. The coupons are for places that you see on your way to work every morning, or tried once and thought “I’d like to go back there sometime”. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in the names:

Local Twist
The Deal Map

And other sites play on the notion of being in a specially selected group.

Living Social
Buy With Me
U Buy With Me
Social Buy
Crowd Savings
Groop Swoop

In a field like this, a completely descriptive name is probably a pretty good idea: people can find the site easily and understand the offering. The downside, of course, is that they all start to sounds alike. And some of them are confusingly similar–could you tell the difference between Buy With Me and U Buy With Me?

There are a few that have taken a more creative approach. Twongo, for example, takes its name from the Chinese term for team buying, tuangou. Yipit is a nice twist on the Yelp; Tippr is a good combination of “tipster” and the dropped-vowel form, like Flickr. Of course, when you get into product-specific sites, the names get pretty wacky: ChronoShark (for watches), Cigar Monster (obvious), Purse A Day (ditto), Whey Cheap (supplements), Paws 4 Deals (pet supplies), Bits Du Jour (software)–the list is seemingly endless.

But I still can’t figure out CowBoom (they sell electronics). Cowboy + boom? Kaboom? A cow zombie from the corpse of Gateway?


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