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A New Do-It-Yourself Alternative to Groupon PeopleDeals combines customization and a lower-cost offer for social-media coupons. But will the tool be too time-consuming for the average small retailer to be practical?

By Jonathan Blum

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Coupons are trying to get a whole lot smarter.

PeopleString threw its hat into the crowded social coupon market today with a new variable-rate coupon service branded as PeopleDeals.

PeopleDeals ($80 per month or $649 per year) uses the Web and social media to allow retailers to precisely control all aspects of a modern social coupon. That includes the offering, how deep the discount is, how many people must accept the deal before it redeems and other features.

"Where we see the opportunity both for social and traditional printed coupons is giving the retailer direct control over the many moving parts in the digital coupon," says Darin Myman, chief executive of Red Bank, N.J.-based PeopleDeals from PeopleString, a web affiliate marketing company.

Considering how critical coupon services like Groupon, LivingSocial and Valpak are to small-business marketing, I arranged for a pre-launch demo of PeopleDeals.

What it is: PeopleDeals is an online coupon creation tool that walks just about any person through the process of designing a discount program, creating a coupon, pricing it, structuring how it is redeemed and for what duration. Once created, coupons can be downloaded for printing or posted on the Web, social media, SMS and sent via email. Results can be monitored.

What's cool: PeopleDeals has the potential to lower costs for small businesses. It does not stipulate a fixed discount rate as Groupon can. And its yearly fees are a fraction of the cost of printed services which vary depending on the amount of coupons printed, production value of the promotional material mailing costs.

Overall PeopleDeals offers the means to develop complex coupons. The example I saw was creating discount coupon for a pizza. Pricing, terms and design of the deal were all controlled in an attractive, well laid-out series of web pages. There is a neat feature that allows for the discount to increase as more customers convert it. Finished coupon was professional looking, as were the means to post it online.

What isn't so cool: PeopleDeals offers so many powerful features that they are not trivial to learn for the average small business. While there is customer support, structuring the deal to get it work right and then following it up can take time. It may be a challenge to master. So for the busy small business, hiring someone else to manage the tool is possibility. And that can raise the cost significantly.

What to do: For the coupon savvy marketer, PeopleDeals may be worth a try. It's fast and filled with clever features. Pricing is also attractive.

PeopleDeals is trying to compete in a savagely crowded social media and discounting environment. As interesting as this tool might be, it may be far too easy for even a steep discount to be lost in the tsunami of coupons, discounts and web deal chatter.

"There is a feeling of a treasure hunt about it," says Mavin. "This is not like Groupon who takes half the profit or LivingSocial where only the referrer gets the discount. Everyone benefits together. It is a social team sport in some way."

But the service may be complex for the average firm, and may prove to be yet another supposedly low-cost social marketing tool that can eat up a lot of your day -- with little reward.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.

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