Ever heard of groupons? Me neither, until I read about it in yesterday’s Times. But the idea has been catching on in the US in a big way, another consequence of the spread of social media, and it’s about to be launched here.

It’s being run by, which talks to traders in different cities and negotiates a hefty discount that is available as long as enough visitors to the 88Wharfsite buy it – a group coupon, or ‘groupon’.  Today’s deal is located in Milton, MA, a half-price meal in a river-front restaurant. It only works if enough people sign up for it within the stipulated time. The company says they usually do, and deals rarely fall through.

Previous deals have included big discounts on ski lift tickets, tours, hotels and restaurants, acupuncture, gym sessions and cookery courses. The company, a start-up based in Chicago, has expanded to 23 cities in the US and is about to make its European debut in London. It says it has sold 600,000 groupons and expects to rake in more than $100 million next year.

Social media are a vital part of the equation. News of latest deals spreads through networking sites, as consumers encourage their friends to join in and make the deal happen. It’s another example of the expanding power that consumers are gaining from web participation.

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