Groupon is looking for a buyer

Groupon’s 10-year run as an independent company could be coming to an end.

Groupon executives — as well as bankers who represent the company — have contacted several public companies in the past month to try to drum up interest in acquiring the Chicago-based company that pioneered the local commerce category known as daily deals, two people briefed on these approaches told Recode.

Groupon CEO Rich Williams

Groupon CEO Rich Williams.

Groupon has made it known for some time to potential acquirers that the company is open to the idea of a sale, but representatives for the company were especially aggressive last month in attempting to create interest among potential suitors, one of these people said. It’s not clear if Groupon has been successful in stirring up a suitor or what’s behind the current push to sell.

A Groupon spokesperson declined to comment.

In the first few years following its launch in 2008, Groupon was one of the darlings of the startup world after introducing the concept of daily deals to online consumers, igniting a frenzy among deal seekers and local businesses alike. By its IPO day in 2011 — the second-largest ever for a tech company at the time — Groupon was worth more than $16 billion, making its decision to turn down a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google a year earlier look smart.

But that may have been the company’s peak. Today, Groupon is valued at just $2.4 billion after a years-long decline in the daily deals category; Groupon acquired its principal competitor LivingSocial for $0 in 2016. Amazon once owned a third of LivingSocial in addition to operating its own local deals business, which it shut down in 2015.

In the past year, Groupon decided to focus less on its Goods category — where it sells discounted physical products — and more on its core digital voucher business, in an effort to boost profit margins.

As a result, overall company revenue fell 5.6 percent in 2017 to $2.84 billion — its lowest total since 2013. Groupon, however, turned an operating profit in 2017 for the first time since 2014.

Since November 2015, Groupon has been run by CEO Rich Williams, who had previously held other senior roles at the company since arriving from Amazon in 2011. For years, he has said that the company’s goal is to make Groupon a “daily habit” in the life of consumers. That surely hasn’t happened yet, but no other online company focused on the local commerce sector has accomplished it either.

Who would buy Groupon? Alibaba and IAC have been floated as potential acquirers in the past — Alibaba because it bought a nearly 6 percent stake in the company in 2016, and IAC because its CEO Joey Levin sits on Groupon’s board.


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