According to sources close to the situation, Google has offered $5.3 billion for Groupon, in what would be its largest acquisition yet if completed.
Sources said the deal for the Chicago-based social buying site seemed likely to be struck, even as early as today, although it certainly could fall apart right up to the end.
But, if done, it will move the search giant instantly to the top spot in local commerce online and give it huge troves of data about consumer buying habits and merchant information across the globe.
Combined with its pending $700 million acquisition of ITA Software, the travel data firm, that should freak out regulators worldwide and could be considered Google’s own version of a jobs plan for antitrust lawyers.
That said, it is a killer move for Google–despite a high price–given it has long tried to enter the local advertising space, with decidedly mixed results.
With its more than $33 billion in cash and strong stock, it had previously tried to buy local reviews site Yelp, in deal that fell apart for reasons that are still unclear.
In contrast, Groupon, founded in 2008, has taken off like a Roman candle and dominated the huge market for social shopping and discounting.
While the $6 billion Google is considering paying seems high, Groupon’s fast-growing revenue and profitability make its multiples less daunting, said those familiar with the matter.
It will certainly be a big payoff for Groupon’s investors, including Silicon Valley’s Accel Partners, as well as Russia’s DST Global, Battery Ventures and New Enterprise Associates.
Groupon has gleaned about $170 million in venture funding from them, most of which it has not needed.
That’s because it has reportedly attracted upwards of $50 million in monthly revenue.
It has done this by offering "daily deals"-getting a massive discount from local retailers in return for delivering customers via marketing via email and on social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter.
Typically, local merchants might rely on less effective newspaper circulars or paper couponing.
In what will certainly be one of the deal’s ironies, Google could own a start-up that is largely powered by rival Facebook’s massive skein of social networking connections.
Facebook, of course, recently introduced its own Facebook Deals offering.
BoomTown first wrote about the deal discussions between Groupon and Google two weeks ago, noting the price would be well above the $2 billion to $3 billion offered by Yahoo.
That interest from Yahoo was first reported here too–mostly because I apparently like to stalk Groupon CEO and Justin Bieber lookalike Andrew Mason–which was first to sniff around the fast-growing social buying site.
(And I will personally be fascinated to see how he’ll mesh with Marissa Mayer, the former search experience head, who is now leading local for Google.)
The New York Times–which does not seem able to ever credit All Things Digital as other blogs always do happily and without fuss–is also reporting a $6 billion price tag for Groupon.
While we all await the outcome of this potential blockbuster of a deal, here is a video interview I did with Mason this summer in Vancouver, where I asked him specifically about Google’s interest (actually, I suggested he mug Google co-founder Larry Page for dough).