Groupon speeds payments to some European merchants

SAN FRANCISCO Tue Jun 12, 2012 6:39pm EDT

People enter and leave Groupon Inc corporate office and headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, November 4, 2011. REUTERS/Frank Polich

People enter and leave Groupon Inc corporate office and headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, November 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Frank Polich

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Groupon Inc is speeding up payments to some merchants in Europe as the world's largest daily deal company gets more comfortable running repeat offers in more mature markets, according to Chief Financial Officer Jason Child.

The shift, which has been happening gradually over recent quarters, may be considered a negative trend by some analysts because it could reduce the amount of cash Groupon has to fund operations and growth.

Groupon has lost half its market value since last year's IPO on concern about the company's growth prospects and accounting. One area of focus has been accrued merchant payables - what Groupon owes merchants that run its daily deals.

In the U.S., Groupon generally collects money for deals from consumers and then pays merchants their cut in installments over 60 days. In most overseas markets, Groupon uses a redemption model where merchants are not paid until customers redeem their Groupons.

Groupon gets to hold the cash before it pays merchants, which has helped it fund operations and growth efficiently. But some analysts are concerned that this cash cushion may dwindle if competition or merchant demands force the company to pay more quickly.

The company mentioned this as a risk in recent regulatory filings.

"In the current period presented, we have offered our merchant partners more favorable and accelerated payment terms which has affected our overall cash inflow for merchant payables for the period," Groupon said in a May 15 filing.

Groupon did not provide more details in the filing. However, Child said in a recent interview that Groupon has moved to the U.S. model of paying merchants in some mature overseas markets, especially in Europe.

Paying merchants before customers redeem their Groupons is a potential risk because if some merchants go out of business or fail to honor the deals properly, Groupon promises refunds.

In some mature European markets, Groupon is running more deals with merchants it has worked with before, which is less risky because the company knows the businesses better, Child explained.

This shift has been happening slowly in recent quarters. About a year ago, Groupon took about 75 days to pay merchants on average. In the first quarter of 2012, the company took about 66 days to pay on average.

Still, Groupon took about 64 days on average to pay merchants in the fourth quarter of 2011. Such swings are also influenced by other factors, such as the type of deals Groupon runs or the type of merchants the company works with.

If Groupon is negotiating a deal with a large, well-known merchant, it may offer that business more favorable terms, Child said.

"We wouldn't sacrifice good deals to maintain a strict structure for terms," he said.

(Reporting By Alistair Barr)

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