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@ Deals 3D: Foursquare, Yelp, Shopkick’s New Mobile Initiatives

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“Showing your phone to redeem a deal sucks,” said Tristan Walker, Foursquare’s director of business development, today at BIA/Kelsey’s Deals 3D conference. “We wanted to completely fix it and make it completely seamless, frictionless and magical.” Foursquare, Yelp and Shopkick are rolling out new mobile tools and launching new partnerships to improve the experience of finding and redeeming deals.

Foursquare and AmEx team up for credit card transactions: Foursquare recently launched a partnership with American Express that ties deals to credit card transactions. Users connect their Foursquare account to their American Express card; check in at a participating store and tap “load to card” on the special, and pay with their AmEx. The transaction goes through at the regular price and users get a credit on their statement. “This gets really interesting in areas like grocery,” Walker said, “where the idea of loading specials to a card is something customers are very familiar with.” It could be a way for Foursquare to expand its user base beyond, in the words of the moderator, “20-something urban foodies.” And Walker says one of the best ways for Foursquare to increase its merchant base from the 500,000 currently participating is to partner with companies as it’s done with AmEx.

Yelp’s mobile search: Over a third of all searches on Yelp come from mobile, and Yelp’s mobile apps have 4.5 million unique users, said Eric Singley, consumer product leader at Yelp. “Mobile is a great way to close the loop with businesses,” Singley said. The company launched Yelp Deals on mobile a couple of weeks ago, with deals appearing based on user searches. “We could have dropped in local ads, but you really want a product users will be excited about,” Singley said. Yelp has a sales force bringing some deals in and merchants can also set up their own. But “the only way this really works is if the quality of the deal matches the quality of the search experience. People get good search results, but they should also get good deals. Otherwise, it becomes noise.” Sinngley said Yelp’s focus going forward continues to be on content–user reviews, tips and photos–as well as international expansion. Yelp currently operates in 10 countries and plans to expand to more next year.

How Shopkick works: Shopkick’s business model revolves around business owners knowing when a user is in the store. Shopkick uses automatic check-ins: When a user opens the Shopkick app and walks into a store, the app determines where they are and gives them points (“kicks”). “Until now, the only time a retailer really knew you were there was when you swiped your credit card. That’s precisely the wrong time to start the conversation,” said Evan Tana, VP of product management.

Shopkick is unique in that it relies on hardware installed inside participating stores. Shopkick currently has over ten partners–like Best Buy and Target–and its hardware installed at 2700 stores. “Our entire system is built around monetary value that a retail brand is sharing with the customer,” said Tana. “The last thing they want to do is reward a customer who’s not actually in the store.” He noted that Shopkick knows when shoppers cross the threshold of a store but can’t identify precisely which aisle they’re in.

As for expanding to other verticals, “our current set of 10 partners has similar problems and we’ve been able to deliver a relatively consistent experience,” Tana said. Shopkick Local just launched, but the challenges for local stores are different. Tana pointed out that, for instance, a coffee shop “doesn’t necessarily care about foot traffic, and doesn’t want to incentivize someone walking out.” Shopkick Local just partnered with Citibank to fund a trial giving away 1,000 Shopkick signal transmittors to local merchants in ten markets.