The Inbox Bottleneck

Following on from my Groupon post the other day, I was at dinner last night with — you guessed it — a bunch of economists and the subject came up. One of them put forward the view that Groupon’s power may come from the notion that people will only tolerate one ‘deal email’ in their inbox everyday and Groupon has got there first. Another built on that to suggest that the market opportunity would be for an aggregator who bundled all the deals into a single email.

Upon reflection and looking at my inbox today I wonder how strong the bottleneck was. To be sure, if the inbox bottleneck equals one, the news is great for Groupon. But in my inbox, I have a Groupon, a Living Social, Eddie Bauer, 2 Amazon, LL Bean, Entertainment Earth, numerous computer deals, often an Apple and of course Lego. That doesn’t even include the emails from SSRN and NBER which list my econ paper deals. And all that after I spent some energy culling my daily email lists with some ruthless unsubscribing. In any case, if I am close to typical then there is no inbox bottleneck. Suffice it to say, a bunch of economists sitting at dinner won’t resolve that empirical question. But if Groupon goes to IPO and you want to buy in, it would be a good idea to gather some hard evidence.

2 thoughts on “The Inbox Bottleneck”

  1. Groupon moves peer pressure online.  When 500 people buy a deal, the next user feels it must be good.  Even though the marginal utility is guaranteed to be low owing to long lines.
    Groupon is able to create the peer pressure via a huge email list. But when the cool-factor wears out,  users will go back to buying only what they want when they want.


  2. I guess it varies. I have an inbox bottleneck: no promo emails, and RSS for low-priority stuff (like publications).


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