Groupon's "tuck-in" deal grants much-needed levity

SAN FRANCISCO, June 4 Mon Jun 4, 2012 6:48pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO, June 4 (Reuters) - For years, online daily deals site Groupon has peddled discounts on restaurants, dance classes, and spa treatments.

The Chicago-based company reached for something rather more unorthodox this week: it offered up one of its own employees for a personalized, bedtime tuck-in.

For $100, buyers of the deal get a visit from Ben Kobold, a Groupon employee whose services were described in intimate detail on the company's website.

"Ben's sinewy, well-groomed fingers delicately raise each sheet and blanket over your body until you're comfortably bundled," the offer reads. "Careful not to disturb any children who may be in the adjacent room, Ben leans in and uses his summer-breeze-like voice to gently sing you one of the five lullabies he has authored."

Groupon spokeswoman Julie Mossler told Reuters that the offer was authentic, making no mention of the company's penchant for inside jokes or founder and CEO Andrew Mason's quirky reputation.

"There's a real demand for a service like this," Mossler said. "There's nothing strange about it. It's very straightforward."

Groupon, which raised more than $600 million in a highly anticipated IPO in November, advertised Kobold as a 28-year old who is "disease-free, physically." Kobold's LinkedIn profile describes him as a writer employed at Groupon since 2009.

A photo accompanying the offer depicts Kobold, in a black hoodie and white latex gloves, smirking at the camera as he draws a purple fleece blanket over another young man smiling in peaceful repose.

"The gloves are negotiable," Mossler added. "But for Ben's safety we prefer that he wears the rubber gloves."

Kobold will visit customers with a "legally required entourage of two or three companions," the offer noted.

Groupon did not make Kobold available for an interview. But he said in a statement: "I'm overwhelmed by the response so far and I hope this inspires tens of millions of Americans to start their own businesses."

The tuck-in deal serves up a moment of levity during an otherwise difficult period for the company. Groupon stock has plummeted 55 percent since its November IPO amid investor concerns about its growth prospects and accounting methods.

Headed by the irreverent 31-year-old Mason, the company took a knock in April when it sharply revised down quarterly revenue after disclosing "material weakness" in its financial controls. The company had faced questions by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission during its IPO process.

Groupon stock slumped further on Monday after its six-month "lock-up" expired, allowing employees to sell stock for the first time since the IPO. The stock dived 7.6 percent on Monday.

Investors have also expressed doubts over whether Groupon can crack new overseas markets to keep up the scorching pace of expansion it has enjoyed in recent years.

There was at least one bright spot this week, though, as Groupon's website lit up with questions from curious customers who wanted to know more about the deal.

As of Monday, the tuck-in offer page listed just two sales. But the company had to politely turn down several users who posted questions asking if Kobold could visit them in cities hundreds of miles away from Chicago.

The service is available between 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, the company said. And Kobold will only visit customers within 5 miles of the zip code 60601, which translates roughly to the Loop district in downtown Chicago.

One woman named "Pamela S." asked if the service was available at the Cook County Jail.

"I know someone there that would love this deal!" she wrote.

The answer was no.

"Unfortunately, Cook County Jail is not within the 5-mile limit," the company replied. "Ben will not be able to travel there."

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