DailyFinance chatted with Groupon Chief Financial Officer Jason Child, 42, about the company's prospects, online retail and the potential for a market that has grown at a ferocious pace.
Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
DailyFinance: Groupon has become a household name remarkably quickly. Why do you think customers like you?
Child: I'm not certain exactly what it is. I think it's partially the price point of the deal. We offer discounts that are unprecedented. It could also be that people see deals on Groupon as soon they wake up, and they can see exactly how popular they are. Looking at that probably helps them determine if it's something they want, kind of a wisdom-of-the-crowd mentality.
Who are your customers?
We've got about 54 million subscribers worldwide today. We skew slightly more toward women then men. A little over half are now outside the U.S. Out of the 54 million subscribers, a little less than half are North America and the rest are international.
Generally, it's just people looking for a good deal. We don't have demographics beyond that.
How was Groupon able to grow so fast?
Group buying itself isn't a new concept by any means, but now you can combine the group-buying model with the Internet and social media. People are checking their apps on their iPhone or their email or logging on to their Facebook account. There are just so many more touch points for the consumer now than there used to be. When you have a very compelling offer, you really have a lot more opportunity to create something special.
Also, the global economic slowdown has forced people to look a little harder at the value they get for whatever they're spending their discretionary income on. I'd say that's the economic aspect.
What does 2011 hold for Groupon?
We're in 41 markets worldwide. We were only in one market less than a year ago. Our view is we will continue to expand the number of markets we operate in, and we'll continue improve the product. We're going to continue to expand the model beyond the deal of the day. It could be deal of the day or deal of the hour or even "what do you want to do today?" There are a lot of directions to go.
Groupon turned down $6 billion from Google. That's a lot of money. How big do you think Groupon can get?
The opportunity is massive. I don't see any limits. When I look at some of the other big Internet players, I don't see why we can't be as big as any of them.
Can you be as big as your previous employer, Amazon (AMZN)?
We absolutely could be. Whether we will be depends on a bunch of factors. But we definitely could be.
So far, Groupon has resisted going public. What are the disadvantages of an IPO?
The disadvantage is there would be distraction from running the business. Right now, I spend my time on evaluating a variety of ways to spend money to gain more subscribers, gain additional merchants and grow the business. If we're a public company, I have to spend time thinking about Sarbanes-Oxley, fair disclosure requirements. I have to think about balancing the need to report sufficient information to investors without giving too much to competitors.
I don't know if "distraction" is the right word, but there's a significant amount of overhead and responsibility involved in being public. At some point, when the benefits of going public outweigh the costs, we'll make the decision. But we haven't made the decision yet.
You've worked for Amazon and Groupon. What do you think is the biggest difference between online retail and buying something in person?
The most obvious difference is the product or service isn't immediate. You're not going to touch that product before you buy it. It's not something you purchase at the location. That's why those companies who have used a discount model have been able to do better. It seems to me that consumers expect that if you buy something that's not immediate, there has to be a discount.
Is there still room for growth in online retail?
Absolutely. If you look at some of the most Internet-penetrated countries, like South Korea, something like 15% or 20% of all retail is online. In the U.S., it's 7% or 8%. So there's a significant opportunity for online retail the U.S. and other major markets around the world.
The number of merchants using our daily deals or the other services is still a very small fraction of the businesses that are out there.
Have you ever used a Groupon?
Of course I have. The last groupon I used was for a restaurant in Seattle last week. It was a Buenos Aires grill, an authentic Argentine steakhouse. It was fantastic. I think I had the bife al chorizo. It was $25 for a $50 groupon. I took my family of four. With food and a bottle of wine, I think we spent something like $150 . We saved $25 on that.