Life for Groupon, the online local advertising platform with a group-buy twist, just got a little more complicated.   Event marketers and local businesses looking to drive footfall can now choose to advertise online with a Groupon Deal, a Facebook Deal or a Google Offer.  And with Groupon’s main rival, LivingSocial flush with Woot! infused Amazon-backing – it’s looking like a four-horse race.

Whilst we wait for a new Amazon-Woot!-LivingSocial move, Facebook and Google – seeing the licence-to-print-money success of Groupon local advertising – have come out with there own Groupon-with-a-twist clones – and are beta-testing them now in a limited number of US cities.

[price_table columns=”3″]
[price_column title=”Groupon” color=”green”]

  • 70 million members
  • The Deal: 50%+ Off, Minimum Purchases Required
  • Costs: 20%-50% commission
  • Reasons to Choose: Market Leader, Core Business, Extensive Local Rep. Network
  • Reasons to Avoid: Steep Discounts Required, Steep Commission
  • Of Note: Self-serve option as well as full managed campaign
  • Social: Group-Buy Mechanic, Referral Rewards, Social Network Sharing
  • [/price_column]
    [price_column featured=”true” title=”Facebook Deals” color=”blue”]

  • 600 million members
  • The Deal: No Minimum Off, No Minimum Purchases Required
  • Costs: TBC (bundled with purchase of ad units?)
  • Reasons to Choose: Platform Reach, Platform Integration, Deal Flexibility
  • Reasons to Avoid: Lack of Experience, Unproven, Facebook ‘Hobby’ – not core business
  • Of Note: Payment by Facebook Credits could reduce friction
  • Social: ‘Social’ Focused Deals, Referral Rewards, Deep Integration with Facebook**
  • [/price_column]
    [price_column title=”Google Offers” color=”pink”]

  • 200 million members*
  • The Deal: Minimum 50% off, No Minimum Purchases Required
  • Costs: TBC
  • Reasons to Choose: Leader in Online Ads, Integration with Search, Google checkout, Gmail and Place pages
  • Reasons to Avoid: Unproven, Patchy track record in social/e-commerce
  • Of Note: New twist on pitch – Get new customers who have paid upfront
  • Social: None
  • [/price_column]
    [/price_table]

    * Gmail users (Google account necessary for deals)

    ** Facebook Deals are distributed in 8 ways on Facebook: Facebook Homepage, Facebook Deals Page, Sponsored Ad Units, Personal Messages and Wall Posts, News feed stories/updates, onsite notifications, deals tab, emails

    Facebook Deals Business Guide

    Facebook have produced a business guide for their Facebook Deals (not to be confused with Check-in Deals) which can be downloaded here – but here’s the speed summary…

    Facebook Deals: Help your business stand out from the crowd with deals that people can enjoy with their friends.

    • Why Use Facebook Deals?
      • Hassle Free – Let Facebook do the marketing for you – using organic tools on the site to spread information about your deal naturally, running ads for you, emailing people about what you’re offering, and driving traffic to your business’s Facebook Page.
      • Build loyalty and drive repeat business – every part of the Deals product is tied to people and their friends. Use Deals to make your business a place where loyal customers want to bring their friends
      • Reach new customers – There are over 500 million people on Facebook and they are looking for interesting things to do with their friends. Use Deals to put your business in front of people as they make these decisions.
      • Get people to recommend your business to their friends – People are already telling their friends on Facebook about their favorite things, including local businesses. Deals is a new way to spread these word-of-mouth recommendations for your business.
      • Friend Bonus – Deals are better with friends, and includes a mechanism to offer people an additional discount when they buy your deal with a friend.
    • How Are Facebook Deals Distributed?
      1. The Facebook Home Page: The Home Page is the first thing that people see when they log on to Facebook. There is a Deals link in the left-hand navigation column, so that people can find and buy your deal easily.
      2. The Deals Page: This page shows your deal, along with others that are available for purchase in a given city.
      3. Sponsored units: Your deal will be eligible to appear in a Sponsored Deals unit on the right-hand side of the Home Page. This unit shows people friends that have liked or bought your deal and lets them buy your deal directly.
      4. Personal messages and Wall posts: People can send messages about your deal to their friends or share your deal on their Wall. This makes it easy for people to make plans together.
      5. News Feed stories: News Feed stories appear on the Home Page and give people information about their friends. When people interact with your deal, News Feed stories will help spread the word about what you’re offering in a natural and relevant way.
      6. Onsite Notifications: Facebook will notify people when friends like or buy a deal that they have also liked. They’ll also tell people when their friend buys a deal for them.
      7. Deals tab: Your deal is eligible to appear on the right-hand side of any deal that is currently running on a Facebook Page.
      8. Emails: Facebook will email people when friends like or buy a deal that they have liked as well. They’ll also send daily emails to people who have subscribed to our Deals updates.
    • In which cities are Facebook Deals live?
      • San Francisco, Austin, Dallas, Atlanta and San Diego
    • What’s the difference between Facebook Deals and Check-in Deals?
      • Check-in Deals offer free mobile coupons for customers checking-in to establishments via their mobile handset.  Facebook Deals are pre-paid vouchers, purchased on Facebook with Facebook Credits or a payment card

    If, and it’s a big ‘if’ Facebook Deals evolve out of the beta petri-dish, then we, like ReadWriteWeb, think they could give Groupon a run for their money – with their massive membership, multiple (8) distribution mechanisms (see above), frictionless sharing, the opportunity to integrate deals into the popular Facebook mobile app, along with smart built-in analytics and targeting opportunities.

    We should be as bullish about Google Offers – they own online advertising market, and with Google Maps and Google Place pages, along with integration with Gmail – and perhaps even YouTube, it should be like shooting Groupons and Facebook Deals in a barrel.  But Google spreads its innovation wide and thin – with so much going on (including YouTube movie rentals), much that never takes off (especially anything with any social component), we’re wondering whether Google Offers has the internal priority and resources necessary to succeed.  If the Offers page for business is anything to go by – Google Offers looks like anything but a priority right now. Perhaps Google is just biding time until it makes another attempt at swallowing Groupon or one of the also-ran clones.

    Does all this activity by the big players spell disaster for for social commerce businesses in the group-buy space? We don’t think so.  In chasing the online local advertising market – Google, Facebook and Groupon are building for sellers not buyers, for businesses not consumers.  We think there is plenty of opportunity for consumer-focused niche lifestyle/demographic group-buy businesses that really walk the group-buy talk – allowing demand-driven pricing and members to self-organize and negotiate and share deals. It’s easy to mock the recently launched Sciddy – a Groupon for seniors – but we think carving out and owning a niche is where opportunity lies.