While CEO Rich Williams has been trying to marshal a turnaround since taking over in late 2015, investors have long expected an acquirer to swoop in.

(Bloomberg)—Merchandise and voucher vendor Groupon Inc. has approached several public companies in recent weeks to try to drum up interest in a sale, Recode reported on Saturday, citing two people it said were briefed on the effort. The report didn’t identify the companies involved.

While CEO Rich Williams has been trying to marshal a turnaround since taking over in late 2015, investors have long expected an acquirer to swoop in and cited companies such as Alphabet Inc., Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 500) and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. as potential buyers.

A sale would mark the end of a saga for investors who have seen Groupon shares fall more than 80% from the peak after their 2011 initial offering, including a 15% drop this so far this year.

As part of its turnaround efforts, Groupon is refocusing on key markets and introducing new services that are gaining traction with consumers. They include a streamlined mobile app and Groupon+, which lets users get cash back by linking their credit cards to their Groupon accounts.

Those initiatives haven’t yet resulted in sustained revenue gains. Analysts have said Groupon needs to demonstrate strong revenue growth to become a robust acquisition target. Meanwhile, it faces strong competition from other sites with ties to local merchants, such as Yelp. Two years ago, it acquired its closest competitor, LivingSocial.

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Analysts who recommend buying the shares, including at B Riley FBR and DA Davidson, said that Groupon has been undervalued and its actual performance underappreciated. Groupon is a “complex but strategic asset” that has evolved from daily deals to become a local deals provider with a network of merchant partners, B Riley FBR analyst Sameet Sinha said in a note to investors.

“If the public markets are not giving the company the value we believe it deserves, maybe the right strategic buyer would,” wrote Tom Forte of DA Davidson, reiterating his target price of $8.

However, one prospective buyer, Alibaba, could run into trouble, writes Thomas Champion of Cowen Inc. in a note to investors. “We wonder if there could be regulatory interference in light of current U.S.-China trade tensions (albeit Groupon is a far cry from a chipset or telecom equipment provider where national security concerns apply),” he writes.

Zak Stambor contributed to this report. 

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