BuyWithMe makes group buying more personal
Do your coupons align your concept with the best friends of your  potential customers? Probably not. But that's what group-buying startup BuyWithMe is aiming to do with its revamped business model.
 
You may have heard of BuyWithMe, one of the top three group-buying platforms, like higher-profile Groupon. The model has customers opt-in to e-mail lists where the aforementioned companies send them discount offers for local businesses, helping the latter get new exposure. But unlike Groupon, BuyWithMe spokespeople say, the younger company is making some changes to make its model more niche.
 
The changes come since the company, which started last May, landed over $5 million in funding in January and brought on a new CEO, Cheryl Rosner, according to company spokesperson Mindy Joyce. Rosner is experienced with successful online oriented businesses, having been the president of Hotels.com and TicketsNow, the world's largest independent online marketplace for premium event tickets.
 
Now Rosner and co. are fine-tuning the BuyWithMe marketing edge, Joyce said. The basic draw for its customers, as with Groupon's, will still be new customer acquisition for restaurants that collaborate with the company on LTO offers deployed on e-mail lists. But the offers go beyond half-off to be more innovative – and discriminating.
 
"We're working with the best businesses in each city and trying to position ourselves as our customers' best friend," said Mara Piazza, director of merchant relations for BuyWithMe. "We're the person you go to to find out where to go out to eat that weekend." So when restaurants sign up, they're not just extending a coupon, they're aligning themselves, potentially, with a trusted, discriminating brand.
 
Piazza offered a couple of Boston-based case studies. The company has worked with the city's famed Upper Crust Pizza chain, as well as the high-end Neapolitan pizzeria, Stone Hearth. The sites were carefully picked to represent the BuyWithMe brand. "If it's not somewhere I don't want to go eat pizza, I don't want to send our customers there," she said.
 
The promotions will soon be more malleable than Groupon's standard offer of 50 or 30 percent off a local business. That flexibility is key to the brand's new strategy. For example, brand managers are looking to unveil months-long VIP passes for a suite of premiere business deals in specific areas, like the Hamptons. Upper Crust Pizza's specific collaboration with the company involved different, staggered promotions for five of its Boston locations. Each of them have sold approximately around 700 vouchers for each, Piazza said.
 
"So instead of running one promo for that brand and only giving them the one week of promotion, we've separated it, so it's huge marketing value there for them," she said.
 
Stone Hearth's promotion was engineered to encourage repeated trial from new customers. The basic promotion was a $15 coupon worth $30, but customers could buy up to five and put them on gift cards to use over time.
 
So far, the company is only based in 20 cities, as opposed to Groupon's 60-plus. But they require at least one employee to be "on the ground" in each, according to Joyce. The company is in "aggressive expansion mode," she said, but that won't affect its "intimate" edge.
 
"We really identify our customers in each city," said Piazza. "Taking the best things each has to offer, and the best things seasonally, so that our customers are in the know. And so they can take advantage of them at a great price."
 

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