Update: Priceline spokesman Brian Ek confirmed that Priceline is piloting Priceline.com local deals in New York City.
"We are testing this service, starting in New York," Ek says. "We think our customers, who are typically bargain-minded, might benefit from these deals. We'll see."
The original post follows:
Priceline is getting into the local deals business, but with a twist.
As Expedia and Groupon are poised to debut Groupon Getaways with Expedia focusing on hotels, and Travelzoo negotiates with hotel partners on Local Deals for their spas and restaurants, Priceline is beginning to roll out local restaurant, spa and retail deals with a private label deals provider, Group Commerce Inc.
Co-founded by former DoubleClick execs and funded by Spark Capital, Carmel Ventures, Lerer Ventures and MTV founder Bob Pittman, Group Commerce sources deals' product for publishers, and conducts the merchandising and customer service.
There's been no official announcement from Priceline other than this email sign-up page for Priceline.com local deals, which notes: "Deals coming soon!"
The only city that Priceline and Group Commerce have jointly rolled out so far is New York City, but a drop-down menu indicates nearly a dozen other U.S. cities are on the agenda. These cities include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. There is also an entry for "national," perhaps signifying nationwide sales of some sort.
In true flash sales fashion, the New York City deals available today were running until July 11 -- or until they sell out.
The current deals included a $72 (supposedly 40% off) sail for two at Classic Harbor Lines, $30 worth of drinks for $15 at Caffe Vivaldi, and two 2-hour language classes for $75 (50% discount) at Language a GoGo.
Priceline is leveraging the marketing power of the Priceline Negotiator to further its new local deals business. A local deals page states:
The Priceline Negotiator is known the world over for his deal-making prowess. Now, he’s coming to your town to negotiate the best deals and discounts he can on local restaurants, products, services and more.
But, Priceline is also quick to put a little distance between its core online travel agency business and the deals' initiative. Priceline adds:
You won’t find these deals on priceline.com. To see them, you’ll need to subscribe to our new, exclusive priceline.com Local Deals service. It’s easy to subscribe and, once you do, we’ll start sharing all these fantastic local bargains and deliver them right to your email box.
And, in a FAQ about Priceline.com local deals, Priceline notes that Group Commerce is the merchant of record for the deals and that customer service is handled separately from Priceline's normal customer service.
As with most flash sales, customers sign up to receive emails about deals in their city, pay via credit card and redeem printed or mobile vouchers at the merchant's venue.
Priceline's Group Commerce partnership and entry into the local deals arena appears to offer Priceline the potential of accessing a sizable new revenue stream without the distraction of having to go out and establish a new business line with dedicated sales people on its own.
Group Commerce has other local deals partnerships with The New York Times, DailyCandy, Active Network, Vital Juice, Meredith Corporation, Thrillist, Everyday Health and Boston.com.