If 22,500 lucky people across 78 cities in India managed to lay their hands on a kilo of onions at a crazy price of Rs 9 a kg — the last time onions sold at that price was in 1999 — last fortnight, it was thanks to Groupon India’s constant endeavour to come out with “innovative and crazy marketing ideas”.

With this unique marketing strategy to offer onions at Rs 9 a kg to the first 3,000 bidders every day for seven days beginning September 5 going viral on social media, and Google searches for ‘Groupon’ jumping 400 per cent during that period, “our constant objective to create excitement in our customer base” was fulfilled, says Ankur Warikoo, CEO of the deal-of-the-day Website, Groupon India.

The idea came up at a brainstorming session even while onion prices were climbing, but “between the thought and the execution” a lot of things had to be put in place. Such as ensuring that the consumer got the one kg of onions she had bid for of the same quality and with the same convenience derived from buying it from the local sabziwala.

Before kicking off the week-long deal, for which a Delhi onion wholesaler was brought on board to supply the company 22,500 kg onions, “we packed the onions in air-tight Groupon packaging and kept them in a very damp room for five days to ensure quality was maintained,” says Chief Marketing Officer Sachin Kapur. Nine courier companies were roped in to deliver the onions across 78 cities within three days of the bid. Thirty per cent of the onions were devoured by Delhi!

Refusing to disclose the price at which they procured the onions from the Delhi wholesaler (“we signed a non-disclosure agreement with them”) or the amount spent on the entire initiative, Warikoo says this marketing initiative was not about profit or loss, but to generate shock and awe among our customers and spread brand awareness, an objective that was achieved as both the social and international media lapped it up “in a way we had never imagined; this deal was unprecedented”.

On the first day when the deal was announced, without any pre-publicity, and 3,000 kg released for sale at 1 p.m., it took 40 minutes for the stock to be absorbed. But the news spread like wild fire and on the second day when another batch of 3,000 kg of onions was released at the same time, “our site crashed. This has never happened before and we have a pretty robust system. At any point during that period there were over 10,000 people logged on.” On the seventh day, the 3,000 kg was sold in less than 10 minutes!

Within the Groupon family “our Indian team is known for the best innovations”, Groupon COO Kal Raman had quipped in a recent conversation with Business Line. For example, in Mumbai, 65 people watched Ganesh Visarjan from the air on a 15-minute helicopter ride, each costing Rs 4,999. On Valentine’s Day, couples took a 15-minute helicopter ride over Bangalore sky for Rs 3,000.

So what next?

“We’re going to announce a deal within 30 days where we will give a price and ask customers to bid for a product without knowing what it is. Of course, it will be at an affordable price,” promises Warikoo.

Rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on September 21, 2013)
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