Groupon and Travelzoo may be facing a formidable foe in the burgeoning local deals market with confirmation that a new product, Google Offers, is being tested.
[caption id="attachment_31917" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Google Offers screenshot (via @Mashable)"]
Google says it is working on what is effectively a Groupon copy, a model where registered users are notified of a daily or weekly deal, based on their location.
The concept is not particularly new, but Groupon's extraordinary growth rate during 2010 has triggered a frenzy of copycats of its own, with perhaps Travelzoo the most high profile in the travel sector to get involved, initially in the US and now the UK.
Destination-specific deals, such as restaurant, activities, tours and hotel extras, seem to be the mainstay of travel-related products running such services at the moment.
Groupon is not without its detractors in the travel industry, most notably in a recent Tnooz article by Stephen Joyce who raised a sceptical eyebrow as to the benefit to the industry of using the local deals model. Others, however, do see some tangible uses for travel brands.
But now Google wants to get in on the act... again.
The deals through Google Offers have a limited shelf-life (as the picture above indicates) and lead users to a Buy Now section, presumably on the supplier's site.
The move has clearly been in the offing for a fair amount of time (such a service requires the creation of sales teams, for a start) but it also casts a sceptical light of recent and fevered speculation that Google was willing to splash out $6 billion to buy Groupon.
A Google official says it is talking to small businesses to "enlist their support and participation" in a test of Google Offers, a product it confirms is only a "pre-paid offers/vouchers program".
"This initiative is part of an ongoing effort at Google to make new products, such as the recent Offer Ads beta, that connect businesses with customers in new ways. We do not have more details to share at this time, but will keep you posted."
Inevitably there is little else to see at this stage how Google Offers will work - question marks will emerge around customer service, geography, types of products Google is targeting, etc.
And while some think there could be room for Groupon, LivingSocial et al, with the travel-focused Travelzoo, to exist happily alongside Google Offers, the search giant's move does one of two things: legitimises (in terms of profile, not law) the local deals model further, while probably making those thinking of "Groupon killers" of their own to think again.