I got an email today from Sports Authority and clicked through to their site. I decided to buy some discounted running shoes and before I checked out, like every other red-blooded American consumer, I searched on “Sports Authority Coupon Codes.”
When I did this I got a list of high ranking coupon/deal sites, including Groupon, RetailMeNot, Coupons.com and so on. Here’s the page:
What’s increasingly true, when you click these links, is that there are no actual codes. They’re just a pass through to the site. For example, here’s what happens on Groupon:
This experience is essentially replicated on RetailMeNot, Coupons.com and the other sites. I’m sure these sites are collecting affiliate fees for this traffic, which is effectively “search arbitrage.” There’s no value being added for the consumer — unless someone went directly to one of these sites, discovered a sale and then clicked through and purchased without prior knowledge of the sale.
As I mentioned, however, the common pattern is to search for coupons just before checkout. So the retailer is likely paying for lots of clicks that aren’t new customers. And the consumer is not getting any additional value because she has probably already shopped the sale and is just looking for extra discounts before buying.
If we consider these sites to be “deals aggregators,” a case can be made that they deliver value to those consumers who look to them first. But, as I suggest, if the majority use case is just-before-checkout lookups then these sites are essentially spamming search results without offering value either to the consumer or the retailer.
I’m willing to allow that a percentage of the audience directly navigates to these sites as a way to discover sales. But if my experience as a consumer is consistent with others’, it’s more of a “bait and switch” experience.
Google has cracked down on search spam many times in the past. Directories that were only republishing business listings without any enhanced content have been demoted. Content farms that were just cranking out superficial articles to rank and monetize display ads were equally shunned in a past algorithm update.
I’m wondering therefore when the shoe/axe will drop/fall on these guys.
Let me know if you totally disagree. But if you agree with me, do you think that Google will act against them? And should the retailers refuse to pay?