T.J.'s Seafood Market Cuts Through the Din

At least one local food retailer believes the costs and logistical hassles associated with offering a deal through an online coupon site are offset by the marketing benefits.

"After being in business for 21 years, we figured we'd found just about everyone in Dallas who likes to cook fresh seafood," writes Jon Alexis, owner of TJ's Seafood Market.

According to Alexis, more than three-quarters of the 2,770 shoppers who purchased $50 gift certificates for $20 and bought vouchers for discounted shrimp platters through a Groupon promo last week were new customers.

"We lose money the first time they come in, but we make money on new long-term customers," Alexis says. "We feel very confident we'll have customers for life."

Groupon has lately come under fire for partnering with businesses that aren't equipped to handle the onslaught of coupon buyers. Business owners have publicly called their experience with Groupon "the biggest mistake" of their lives, and a Rice University study released last month showed 42 percent of retailers who'd advertised through the site wouldn't do so again. After conducting the poll, researchers were skeptical of "the sustainability of social promotions as they currently exist."

But Groupon believers say the site supports business owners, and argue Groupon's not to blame for their faulty accounting and understaffing.

"This is like a nuclear bomb," Alexis says of the post-offer rush. "You set it off, and...operationally, it's a challenge."

TJ's hasn't always been able to keep up with demand, despite doubling its usual order last Saturday. But Alexis says he coaching his new customers to accept seafood shortages.

"We always say 'don't trust a seafood market that doesn't run out of things', so they've been understanding," he says.

Groupon releases deals via e-mail on a daily basis. Restaurant coupons show up fairly frequently; according to spokesperson Julie Mossler, the most successful restaurant coupons in Dallas -- home to 367,000 subscribers -- have come from Dream Cafe, Campania, Freebirds and Tin Star, which sold 8,977 $25 gift certificates for $10 apiece.

Alexis, who's considering running a holiday catering deal through Groupon, says he appreciates the exposure offered by the site.

"I'm just guessing here, but the Central Markets and the Whole Foods dominate the discussion with their advertising capabilities," Alexis says, when asked to explain how thousands of eaters interested in fresh seafood had managed to remain oblivious to the Preston Forest institution. "If you're an independent, you have to shout through the din."

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