Daily Daze

A Faint Gloom Cloud Hovers Over The Daily Deal Summit

Is it a done deal for the industry?
aqta9t5caaajfqi A Faint Gloom Cloud Hovers Over The Daily Deal Summit

(via Twitter.com/AustinEvarts)

Slouched comfortably in his chair, holding forth on the prospects of a would-be Groupon, TechStars’ David Tisch expressed doubts about the name of the very event where he was, at that moment, speaking. “The word ‘daily deal’ is, like, staring me in the face, and I’m scared of it.”

“It’s poison, I think, to a large audience outside of probably this room.”

He addressed a diverse crowd: While the suits certainly turned out in force, Betabeat spotted more than a few untucked shirts and even one battered pair of men’s flip-flops. (The panelists themselves reached equilibrium somewhere in the vicinity of business casual.) Diversity of dress code notwithstanding, the conference had the just-between-us tone of a small industry gathering.

And that industry isn’t wholly spooked, but it does seem a little concerned about the weather. Mr. Tisch’s comment tapped into a faint anxiety running throughout the first day of the 2012 Daily Deal Summit, staged at the Times Square Crowne Plaza in partnership with online trade publication DailyDealMedia. Panel titles like “State of the Union: Industry Interrupted” and “Too Fast, Too Furious?” betrayed concern about the industry’s future that aren’t exactly unfounded.

At one point, a poll of the audience revealed a substantial number had unsubscribed from at least one daily deal email list. A tiny few even admitted to unsubscribing from their own company’s.

Nor are the industry giants simply sitting pretty, peering down at the teeming also-rans. Asked by moderator (and Yipit cofounder) Jim Moran about what a company like Groupon should be doing, Mr. Tisch suggested strengthening ties with local merchants, with an eye to becoming something like the internet equivalent of the Yellow Pages. Angel investor Benjamin Sun, on the other hand, sees Groupon leveraging their acquisition lists into sales of everything from watches to treadmills. Maintaining the status quo didn’t seem to be an option.

The audience, for their part, got a little aggressive with this particular batch of panelists. First the speakers faced an interrogation regarding the high costs of customer acquisition. (GiltCity VP Florent Peyre answered first and therefore bore the brunt, until Mr. Moran gently moved things along.) Another attendee wondered about merchants refusing to honor deals, while still another challenged the Washington Post’s Tim Condon on the efficacy (or lack thereof) of tying deals to content.

The state of the industry having been assessed, the conference moved onto more nuts-and-bolts—though still somewhat downbeat—panels. There was much discussion of user testing best practices and optimal email times at “The Year of the Unsubscribe?,” while “Making the Deal Model Work” parsed ways forward for the business.

By this point, a fair bit of the audience seemed to have trickled out. Betabeat located them on the way out, gathered into tight clusters of seemingly intense discussion. Back on the sidewalk, we saw nothing but sunshine.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com