Groupon Scheduler Rolls Out in Beta as Part of Larger Tech Ambitions

Groupon doesn’t want to be known as just a deals company.

As many others have proven (Google, Amazon, LivingSocial, etc.), that business is easy to replicate. Instead, the Chicago-based company wants to be known as a technology company for local merchants.

To that end, it has rolled out Groupon Scheduler, an online calendar that enables small businesses, like spas and salons, to book appointments online.

The service is based on technology Groupon acquired from OpenCal, a Vancouver, Canada-based company, in September. After pilots in Sacramento and Miami, the company is rolling out the tool in the U.S. and Canada today. Other products are in the works, as well.

The calendar operates a lot like other online services, such as Google Calendar, except that it is tailored for businesses. Customers can view available time slots online and easily sign up for particular services, like a massage or a haircut, without ever having to make a phone call or send an email.

Today, many small businesses are still logging appointments over the phone and writing them into a paper calendar, or paying fees for equivalent online services.

Groupon Scheduler is free for a three-month beta period ending on June 19 to any merchant, not just companies that have run deals with Groupon in the past. In June, the company will evaluate whether it should charge for the service.

For now, Groupon is using the calendar and other forms of technology to build and maintain alliances between current Groupon merchants, but also other potential small business customers. Additionally, by layering on more services, Groupon may be able to continue to justify taking a huge share of the revenue each time a deal runs on its site, rather than letting margins erode over time.

In the company’s last earnings call, CEO Andrew Mason pledged that the Groupon of five years from now will require making investments in technology and innovations to create a bigger barrier to entry.

As part of that, it has been on an acquisition spree and has built a technology headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., which I toured last month.

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