Update 2 (October 3): Interestingly, TimesDeal has now made all deals free on its website, according to a tweet from the Times Internet CEO, Satyan Gajwani. He stated that Times Internet had tried offering free deals in February and claimed that it had worked well, indicating that they should offer the deals for free.

He reiterated that the promo code leak from last week was a slip-up but it affirmed their belief in the decision to offer deals for free. However, we wonder if the alleged promo code leak from last week was a well thought out marketing initiative to test the waters before officially rolling out the feature.

It’s worth noting that following the leak, Pluggd.in had pointed out that the deal threads on their forum had emerged from Indiatimes’s Gurgaon office and had also discovered the staging section of the website, where the company was offering the deals for free with a ‘Steal It’ button which can be seen in the new interface of the Timesdeal website.

It will be interesting to see how Times Internet plans to monetize the service in the future, since the company might not receive a direct commission fee from the deal coupons claimed through the portal, but there could be another route.

Update (Sept 27): Times Internet CEO, Satyan Gajwani, tweeted last night that the leak has been resolved, and 1lakh deals were bought using the leaked promo codes in 2 days.
He added that the company will honour all the deals.

Earlier (Sep 26): During the week, we had noticed several people claiming various TimesDeal* offers as part of Facebook’s offers scheme.

However, what’s interesting though is that people were apparently availing this offer for free, due to a leaked promo code which claimed to offer 100% discount on the deal. Making things worse, users shared these leaked promo code across various social networks to their contacts, extending the damage caused by the leaked promo code.

According to a IndiaDigitalReview report, the leaked promo code was an internal test promo code used by TimesDeal to test the functionality of the deals on the portal. Times Internet Ltd, which operates the daily deal website confirmed to MediaNama that hundreds of free deals were availed through this method, but refused to disclose the extent of damage caused, although the report pegs the loss at Rs 15 lakh to Rs 30 lakh.

Times Internet stated that it was unsure if the promo code was leaked or hacked and the company is currently investigating the matter. Interestingly, the company noted that it was possible to block users from availing these offers on the portal, but they decided not to do so since it would’ve affected genuine TimesDeal users. The company stated that it will honor all the deals availed through this method.

Few things worth noting:

Promo code was too generic? The leaked promo code (we’re not mentioning it) was too generic in our opinion. Therefore it’s quite possible that someone simply tried the promo code randomly and upon successfully securing a deal, shared it with his/her friends and the promo code spread through word of mouth.

Deals Are Not Entirely Free: TimesDeal is a couponing venture, where it collects a small token amount when user buys a specific deal and directs them to pay the remaining amount the merchant. For instance, if one opts for a restaurant deal worth Rs 400, he would have to pay Rs 100 to Times Deal and the remaining Rs 300 to the restaurant owner. When we tried the above mentioned promo code, we noticed that only the token amount was waived off and the portal directed us to pay the remaining amount to the merchant.

Hence, the merchants weren’t essentially affected in this promo code leak, instead we believe that they would’ve probably received more traction than before due to the virality of the leaked promo codes. We believe that Times Internet could possibly factor in these losses in their future talks with the merchants and recover the losses offline.

Previous developments: In May 2011, Times Internet had launched TimesDeal, a couponing venture which offered deeply discounted coupons across various categories like Restaurants, Hotels, Salons, Spa, and Entertainment among others in six different cities including Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai, and later expanded to other Indian cities including Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh during the past year. The company claims to offer coupons with 50-97% discount on various deals.

Last November, TimesDeal had also introduced a new dedicated section for food, offering deals on individual dishes, rather than discounts on meal combos or ‘buy one get one’ offers. However, it looks the company has now integrated these listings within the portal, at the time of writing this article.

*Disclosure: Times Internet Ltd (Indiatimes) is an advertiser with MediaNama