Website sends “hagglers” to negotiate group deals

oBaz.com haggles for bulk deals on products chosen by users.

Megan Nicolai

Living and school expenses leave an average college student always hunting for a bargain âÄî a search that means profits for one small online company.

oBaz, short for online bazaar, creates custom discounts for requested items.  The company will launch a student-oriented section of its website Friday.

Unlike Groupon, which relies on a lottery system to come up with one new deal a day, oBaz lets users request items they want, then tailors the deal to their specific needs.

âÄúWeâÄôre like Groupon in reverse,âÄù said Andrea Lewandowski, director of marketing for oBaz.

oBaz.com is organized by an âÄúaislesâÄù feature, which refers to separate areas of the website customized for specific lifestyles. A new student college section targets students specifically.

If enough people request a certain item, a team of employees, called âÄúhagglers,âÄù call wholesalers carrying the item and negotiate a group discount price. Since sellers are more willing to provide discounts for products bought in bulk, more popular items are likely to receive a better discount.

Whether oBaz is successful depends on its visibility among college students and its insight into the age market, said John Eighmey, an advertising professor at the University of Minnesota.

âÄúItâÄôs an interesting business model,âÄù Eighmey said. âÄúA lot will depend on their ability to feature deals for things that college kids will think are useful or cool.âÄù

The orders can also be promoted with social media like Twitter or Facebook.

The current featured items on the site include a hookah for $15, a beer glass in the shape of a boot and a $50 gift card to Chipotle.

âÄúWeâÄôre giving buyers the chance to gain power in how much they pay and save a lot of money,âÄù said Brian Ficho, co-founder of oBaz. âÄúWe turned the whole concept of buying on its head.âÄù

Ficho, a 2008 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that the concept for the site developed about two years ago when the use of social media sites like became mainstream.

Lewandowski said that buying in bulk is a preferred method of business for many distributors.

âÄúWeâÄôll do all the stuff that no one wants to do,âÄù Ficho said.

Groupon allows personalized requests. But spokeswoman Julie Mossler said a customer has to personally contact the companyâÄôs customer service department.

Discounts for requested items vary greatly by product, but prices are reduced on anything, Lewandowski said.  A pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses recently sold at a discount of $50. A regular pair is worth anywhere from $145 to more than $200.

 âÄúMost websites organize products by categories, but we ask âÄòWho are you?âÄôâÄù Ficho said. âÄúAre you a golfer, a mom, a gamer, a college student?âÄù

The company receives its funding from an investment firm. Lightbank gives startup companies like oBaz between $100,000 and $5 million in loans.  The two founders of oBaz are former Lightbank employees. oBaz currently has seven employees, and hopes to add an eighth soon, Lewandowski said.