Prince George's County officials say digital coupon companies such as LivingSocial and Groupon are discriminating against the county by excluding their businesses from the daily slate of discounts and deals offered in the region.
Both Groupon and LivingSocial offer deals via email, mobile apps and the Web for everything from 50 percent off at a restaurant to discounted vacation packages. They provide hyperlocal offerings for subscribers in every jurisdiction but Prince George's.
Google Offers, the Internet giant's foray into the daily discount business, became the latest coupon company to neglect the county when sending out regionalized deals. As of Monday, subscribers can sign up for daily emails specific to Northern Virginia, the District or Montgomery County, leaving only Prince George's behind.
A spokeswoman for Google said the company looks for high-density areas with a variety of businesses when choosing what areas to regionalize with its offers -- Prince George's County's failure to spur development around its many Metro stations is well-documented -- but still provides some offers for county businesses.
Officials at District-based LivingSocial encountered the same problem when regionalizing its coupons. Prince George's lacks a dense and diverse business community that could sustain a wide variety of offers throughout an entire week, said spokesman Brendan Lewis.
"It's not fair to our merchants, and definitely not fair to our members, if we offered the same deals with regularity," Lewis said. "We try to spread out the type of merchants that we offer deals for so it creates some breathing room."
A spokesman for Groupon said residents can find some deals in Prince George's by searching through offers in D.C. and Baltimore.
But Prince George's officials accused the companies of "economic discrimination" based on the county's racial and financial demographics for the exclusion of Prince George's from most mailing lists and offerings.
"It's baffling considering that Prince George's has the most affluent African-American residents in the country," said Aubrey Thagard, the county's deputy chief administrative officer for economic development.
"The real mistake is made by these companies, and we've had this happen before, just not recognizing the demographics and the income levels in the county and missing the potential," said Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the Greater Prince George's Business Roundtable.
Thagard concedes the county has to work to change the perception that Prince George's is a poor climate for business. Drawing high-end retailers, such as a proposed Whole Foods in Riverdale Park, could help change people's minds, he said.
"They help to change market perceptions of whether there's a demand for certain retail brands in the county," Thagard said.