Niche daily dealer focuses on Jewish buyers

Menorahs are seen for sale in a Lower East Side shop that sells Jewish items on the first day of Hanukkah December 11, 2009 in New York City.

At sundown Friday, Jews across America will light candles for the seventh night of Hanukkah. By then, tens of thousands of them will also have received a holiday-themed ‘daily-deal’ offer by email—from a site like jdeal.com or Jewpon.com. Unlike generic daily-deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, these sites target a specific ethnic market right in the ‘kishka’—that’s belly, for anyone not up on their Yiddish.

“We have an Uzbeki-style kosher restaurant in Midtown Manhattan,” says jdeal co-founder Jodi Samuels, describing one of her company’s daily-deal offerings earlier this week. “We also ran a Hanukkah House--it's a Manischewitz product, the equivalent of making a gingerbread house, which is a great gift for kids. Food deals always sell in the Jewish world.”

Jdeal launched in fall 2010—when Google was bidding billions for Groupon and it seemed like daily-deal-doers were the next dot-coms. Since then, many generic sites have struggled to keep customers, maintain deal-flow, and defend their margin-share of merchant sales.

Meanwhile, targeted deal sites keep cropping up—for multicultural women, vegans, the GLBT community, moms, and Jews.

Samuels says jdeal has grown steadily--from 500 subscribers initially, to more than 70,000 today. She and her business partners also operate several other media and information sites for the Jewish market (one promoting support of Israel, called Buy Israel Week, and another that helps Jewish mothers network). She says jdeal has grown organically, without having to purchase solicitation lists to expand their subscriber base. And the company hasn't reduced its share of merchant sales below 35 percent. Samuels says 58 percent of subscribers purchase at least one deal per year, and the average subscriber purchases 2.5 deals per year.

Rieva Lesonsky, former editor of Entrepreneur magazine and current publisher of smallbizdaily.com, says she was initially skeptical of sites like jdeal and Jewpon. “Deals for Jews: When you first hear it, it might sound like it’s too niche,” she says.

Lesonsky says there's a danger for the online retail entrepreneur if they target their ethnic market-niche too narrowly. That can leave customers can feeling ghettoized--'different' in a bad way. “Jews shop at Macy’s,” Lesonsky says. “But jdeal—it’s a really good mixture, there’s a lot of charity and that kind of thing in there, so I think it might work.”

We test-marketed jdeal on two other Jewish business analysts, including Stacey Widlitz of SW Retail Advisors, based in New York and London. “When your religious affiliation mandates that you use certain kinds of products,” says Widlitz, “for that target audience, it is a time-saver.”

Retail analyst Marshal Cohen of the NPD Group also finds something to like in daily-deal sites aimed at self-identified Jews.

“There’s a stigma that the Jewish population loves to get a good deal,” says Cohen. “That comes from them being merchants through history. And that also presents an opportunity to look at them as a target audience to offer a good deal.” 

It takes a bit of 'chutzpah' to voice that stereotype out loud.

Jodi Samuels says she mixes a little 'chutzpah,' a little 'kitsch,' into the online offerings at jdeal.

“We definitely try to have some Jewish humor in our site,” she says, “Jewish mother-in-law, Jewish guilt.”

The site isn’t only aimed at observant Jews and traditionalists. This reporter’s teenage son doesn’t know a Torah from a Talmud. But he loves the Maccabeats—a singing group of Yeshiva boys who mash-up top-40 tunes, as in this YouTube video, titled “Candlelight”  (based on Mike Tompkins’ a capella version of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”). The words go something like this: “I’ll tell a tale, tale, tale, tale. Of Maccabees in Yisroel, -el, -el, -el. . . .”

Jdeal has offered half-price tickets (at $17.50 each) to see the Maccabeats’ at a club in New York City. Maybe not such a great deal—if, as this reporter is, you’re raising Jewish kids in Portland, Oregon.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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