If You Don’t Know Me By Now….

‘Do you have the senior discount coupons, honey?’ bellowed the sweet old man as he settled down into the gondala.

He was American, of course.

And so was his equally adorable (and decrepit) ‘honey’ of a wife.

It was a warm evening in Venice as she fished deep into her bag to find the ‘senior discount coupons’. Sure enough, she did have them and she handed them over. They secured their five euro discount and off they punted into the sunset.

All of which leads us to Groupon. Remember when that was all the rage?

Except it never really was. At least, not in the UK, nor lots of the rest of the Old World. Because Groupon made the classic American mistake, and it ran something like this:

Everyone in the US loves coupons, so let’s take ‘em to the world….with technology!

Great.

Except naïve.

Seriously, seriously naïve. Because in Europe, coupons are nothing to shout about.

Coupons, in Europe, are the shame-faced mother handing over 5p off a packet of cornflakes to feed her kids. Coupons, in Europe, are tied up in the history of rationing and whole nations not having enough to eat. Ultimately, coupons, in Europe, like everything else, are about class.

I ain’t saying this is right, morally-speaking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Had Groupon done their homework and understood the multiple, complex markets – and cultures – involved, this would have been apparent from the outset.

But they didn’t. Instead, they chose to learn the lessons the long, hard, expensive way: Groupon’s shares are down 49pc in the last year.

To be fair to them, they’ve got it now and are retrenching into the market they know best, the land of the free. That’s one reason Alibaba has just bought a 5.6pc stake and the stock price is beginning to rally.

But it will be a long, slow recovery from here because of those ill-conceived international adventures.

Groupon and others need to recognize what the sweet old man and his ‘honey’ wife could have told them long ago – that doing business overseas is just like an overseas vacation: it’s all in the planning.

– this piece first published by The Huffington Post

Nick Jefferson is a partner at Monticello LLP and a curator of The Library of Progress.