Edited to add: For extra credit, it might have been worthwhile to apologize to the merchant for failing to prevent a situation which caused their wares to be presented in an unflattering manner.
This probably stands reality on it's head, but what actually happened on one particular day in Tokyo is not maximally relevant to Groupon's Japanese business, and having a reputation for being magnanimous and savvy to how the game is played can only help them in the future. Again, though, I think they did really well.
Bowing in this situation seems like a high-risk, low-reward behavior. He might have moved the apology from an A to an A+, but he also might have made the situation worse without realizing it. If I bowed for an apology, I feel I would make any number of rude mistakes, like maintain (or not maintain?) eye contact, have the wrong facial expression, not bow deep enough / shallow enough, slouch, not hold it long enough, do it sitting, or check Twitter at the bottom. When you don't understand a culture, it's usually reasonable to be polite and gracious within the confines of your own. Maybe Japan has different expectations, but I've worked with an uncountable number of foreign nationals, and it's understandable when they don't extend a handshake (typical American greeting), or yell "Hey, fuck you! How you doin'?" (typical New York greeting).
In this regard, foreigners are a lot like dolphins. You're going to be graded on a curve and that curve is going to underestimate you severely -- one can (judiciously) take advantage of this sort of thing.
My ex-ex-job was Coordinator of International Relations for a tech incubator, and I never saw someone lose points for trying their six word Japanese vocabulary, a bow, etc. It may actually be more difficult for those folks who are in the uncanny valley of between "fluent enough to be assumed competent" and "actually competent." (cough Oh the stories I can't tell. cough)
Tangentially related, it is occasionally to one's advantage as a foreigner to pretend ignorance of Japanese social norms. I am not generally a fan of it, but sometimes duty wins.
You are what you eat, and if you eat what they eat, you are in some sense made of the same stuff.
Humans like to put other humans in two boxes, "us" or "them" and nothing can get you over the threshold and into the "us" box better than eating their food. In my experience, I've also found that most people want people in the "them" box to be in their "us" box and will lightly test your suitability with various social normalization tests -- often in the form of some local delicacy that they know foreigners won't be into. "Here! Try some of this delicious fermented cow stomach!"
(it also helps that most places have a friendly social structure around alcohol consumption, and chasing bites of random animal innards with some hard booze seems to do a good job of killing off whatever might not agree with you)
It also usually follows that they'll see you put a good effort into meeting them (culturally) and most folks will give you a wide berth to stumble through their social customs.
Without knowing anything else about a place, I've managed to muddle through relations with Peruvians, Ecuadorians, French, Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Saudis, Germans and a few others simply by sitting down at a table with them and breaking bread and trying to mind my manners.
In a few places, this immediately broke down walls of outward hostility and the night often ended with some kind of embarrassing duet at a Karaoke bar or similar.
I mean, he is alone in a shirt, no suit, no tie, seamingly from his personnal computer (no pro involved, no one else), with an improvised background.
It may be felt as sincere and straightforward, but on the other hand it lacks seriousness and commitment. One would say he didn't care to do something more formal, or even to get someone to help, and just hacked a quick reply before getting home.
I seems more targeted at future investors than to angry customers.
Edit: perhaps I should add that the apologies from groupon japan on the official site where basic style, plain text ones. This is the first video published on the issue, so it's a bit jarring to see something so casual.
Merchant protection is something that really needs to be done better.
I also liked that it was all done in one take and it wasn't given corporate PR-treatment, it was just a guy in front of his webcam. Also quite clever to do it at the office, when everyone has gone. Gives the impression of the hard-working shacho (which I'm sure he is, anyway).
It came across as a business owner who genuinely cares about customer experience.
There are forms of apology which are distinctively Japanese. One is a videotaped press conference during which a speech very similar to that video would be delivered by the CEO. He would likely be accompanied by three or four people close to the matter. At a scripted moment during the speech (likely, several of them), all will simultaneously bow deeply. On the video you would hear audible clicking noises as every print photographer in the room simultaneously went for the photo opp, because Japanese papers run with photos of bows for apologies the same way American newspapers run with photos of handshakes for peace treaties.
If you're not serious: This joke is in extremely poor taste.
Suggest removing sticks from nether regions... both of you.
Japan has twice the suicide rate which is still not a lot. It's about the same as Finland. This is not a subject that can be (nor should be) easily reduced to a "Japanese people commit suicide a lot" kind of stereotype, so lets not do it.
"Apologize in Japanese." ← Most popular
"Apologizing in a shirt? Wear a suit, you trash."
"Groupon is a fraud outfit." ← Due to other controversies
"Groupon CEO is a kid? No wonder..."
"An American's apology has no meaning. He was even wearing casual clothes. This was more like a an excuse rather than an apology. He didn't even bow. He made things worse."
"Groupon is run by a foreigner?"
"The youtube account has videos of them abusing a dog. I'm reporting this."
People buy restaurant coupons with an expiry date in X months. They call to make a reservation and are told that they are fully booked for X months.
People are sold chinese made gyoza. This fact is not stated in the advertisement which has some fishy statements. This is particularly sensitive because chinese foodstuff is worthless in Japan.
Chinese foodstuff is cheaper and not worthless in Japan. I know; I buy Chinese food in Japanese supermarkets all the time and I'm not the only one. It's the only way to get garlic for less than 3$ per head. It's not labeling food as Chinese that is a huge no-no in Japan (like the fish problem they had last year)
The upper class types I know think the Internet is low-class and never post on message boards or news discussions. Much like how few people here post in CNN discussion threads. It's like arguing with the lunatic fringe; why bother?
In the end, in most cases, the media manufactures consent and everyone forgets about it.
I think fair amount of Japanese will be satisfied with this, and even like Groupon more than before the incident. It looks like similar to apologies done by Japanese executives, though Mr. Mason did not do deep bow.
- In Japan during the first few days of the new year, they traditionally cook meals called osechi-ryori to celebrate. But nowadays, people just buy premade meals on line and have them delivered.
-Groupon advertised with a company called Bird Cafe to have a special discount on the meals.
-Bird Cafe could not handle the amount of orders, and delivered late and with bad quality. When the meals arrived they were no where close to the advertised pictures. Pretty much it was like ordering a hot meal, and what was delivered was a microwaved frozen dinner.
Many customers were outraged and the blogs lit up in Japan about the mistake on Groupon's part.
The video is about apologizing for the mistake and talks about how to ensure such quality issues do not happen again. Mostly by making sure the companies they work with can handle the orders and uphold their product as advertised.
For those who don't read Japanese, that's a mom&pop-like Thai place doing a 500-yen ($6) all-you-can-eat coupon.
They sold 3500 coupons.
I just can't fathom the economics behind that one.
I can think of a few places that are all-you-can-eat (tabehodai) for 1000 yen. I wouldn't bet on the quality of food, but sometimes you luck out. 500 is insanely cheap, but it is near the break-even point (if you aren't including rent)
So you are really looking at 250 yen; Around half the break-even point by your estimates.
Groupon takes a commission which varies but is reportedly around 50%.
So the client business gets 250-yen per coupon.
The other Japanese text reads (my rough translation, you get what you pay for):
To our customers who ordered Bird Cafe [n.b. name of advertiser]'s "Kinsei Osechi" [n.b. name of product -- osechi is a a food box delivered at New Years], related parties, and Groupon's fans: we are sorry for having caused you trouble with the Kinsei Osechi Groupon offer. Our CEO Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon, explains how Groupon will take the utmost measures to stop similar incidents worldwide in his apology message:
Video goes here.
Not only Groupon Japan but all worldwide Groupon companies will take corrective steps to prevent this sort of occurrence from happening again. The measures include:
+ Strengthening pre-deal investigation of merchants
+ Improving the setting of deal size limits [to prevent overwhelming merchants' ability to deliver]
+ Establishing a dedicated customer support office for purchasers of Groupons
+ Improving training of employees and our internal management systems so that our customers and merchants can trust us sufficiently to do business.
Thank you for using Groupon. We hope to continue earning your trust in the future.
[Transcript of video begins here. You can listen to English.]
As for apologizing to the merchants, I am assuming that they must have known all the way along about how many orders were they capable of handling before they had to resort to delivering that what was not the same as the advertised deal.
I think that assumption is perhaps optimistic. Your average local takeout place is not Toyota: they probably run things mostly on feel, rather than on having a rigorously documented and optimized process, and it is highly unlikely they've ever thought through capacity planning for "Can you take five times your busiest day ever? Can you take ten times your busiest day ever?", because for traditional businesses that just doesn't happen. Groupon's strategy for addressing this apparently includes communicating to merchants that Groupon is capable of overwhelming them past anything they have previously experienced.
When I started watching the video I was afraid of an insincere or an incomplete apology ("…and if anyone feels offended, we apologize…") which would be a complete disaster, especially coming from an American speaking in English.