March 9, 2012, 10:55 AM

Groupon expands the reach of its paid loyalty program

 The daily deal operator is offering Groupon VIP to consumers in five more markets.

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Less than a month after launching a test of a paid loyalty program, Groupon Inc. is offering Groupon VIP to consumers in five more markets. The daily deal operator says it plans to slowly expand the offering nationwide.

Groupon is offering select users in Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, OH, Minneapolis and Orange County, CA, the chance to try out Groupon VIP for three months.

The program, which costs $29.99 a year, gives shoppers first shot at deals, one-click access for requesting a refund for unused vouchers, as well as access to what Groupon is calling its Deal Vault, which contains deals that are not available to non-VIP members.

"We're continually innovating to improve the Groupon customer experience," says Jeff Holden, Groupon’s senior vice president of product development. "In the case of VIP, we asked our customers ‘If you could wave a magic wand and change Groupon in any way, what would you ask for?' The three main features of VIP were at the top of the list: early access to deals, ability to purchase closed or sold-out deals and anytime-refunds."

The test had been running in Charlotte, NC, Indianapolis, Miami, Milwaukee, Tampa, FL, and Hampton Roads, VA.

Groupon rival LivingSocial rolled out a similar program called Plus last November. For $20 per month Plus members get $25 in “Deal Bucks” credits that are applied to their next purchase, as well as access to closed deals. Deal Bucks are LivingSocial credits redeemable for vouchers from the daily deal operator.

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