mobileTech Tuesday by Steve Guengerich
As the supremacy of the freemium app and appcommerce business models over the fee-based, paid apps becomes more evident every month, deals have become among the most hotly contested mobile app categories.
Given the heat of competition and that one of the hotter Austin-headquartered ventures WhaleShark Media is a deals-oriented consolidation of a fragmented market (not unlike Homeaway is, in the travel sector), I thought deals apps were worth a closer look this week.
Two quick footnotes of the caveat emptor variety, before I continue: (1) as the title says, this survey is unscientific – no purchases were made and a thorough search of Austin deals apps wasn’t conducted. So, if you have a deals app that you think is “killer” that we don’t mention, then by all means let us know about it in the comments below, and (2) we’re excluding any work-for-hire or apps development projects to produce deals apps that Austin-based companies are building (or have built) for others. It’s good that we have local expertise to do it, but not relevant to this survey of apps.
Back to WhaleShark Media, unfortunately their deals web properties, at least at first glance, appear to be a mobile UNfriendly at present. For example, their flagship property, Deals.com, is extremely info-packed but doesn’t make any attempt to mobilize the web interface for the display format of a phone. It looks ok in a tablet-sized form factor, but nothing appears mobilized. I suspect that will change soon enough.
In terms of Austin-native deals companies, Moximity made a valiant run at the space a couple of years ago but was too early and is nowhere to be found. Of more recent note, local entrepreneur Ben Boral has launched Clip! to allow local Austin businesses to create time-controlled promotions through the use of digital coupons, filling slow hours without sacrificing during busy hours.
In Ben’s words: “I chose to reach customers on their mobile devices because those customers are most geared to impulse decisions. For example, an iPhone-toting customer walking down South Congress is more likely to spend money than one sitting in front of their iMac at home.”
Clip! is an interesting idea and I like the simple interface. But, I’d call it a functional prototype, at best, with a lot of work ahead of Ben across the board from analytics to good old-fashioned inventory acquisition (i.e., populating the app with the deals themselves). But, he’s off to a good start and I like the predominantly local-merchant flavor of the deals offered.
Speaking of deals inventory, of course, no survey would be complete without mentioning the deep-pocketed, big-brand players. What follows is first impressions of their apps with respect to usability in general and Austin deals in particular.
Groupon – yum…who doesn’t like pizza, especially Neapolitan (isn’t that the kind that combines vanilla, strawberry and chocolate)? Groupon seems to always a reasonably good inventory of deals, most of which are good for multiple days. My question: does anyone actually pay attention to the “Time left to buy” counter in the upper-left corner of the app?
While I’ve not personally served as a Groupon vendor, my understanding from those that have is that the real value is in new customer acquisition; because, from a revenue standpoint, featuring your products or services in the deeply discounted format, combined with Groupon’s cut, tends to result in a break-even proposition.
Facebook – as anyone that uses the Facebook mobile phone app knows, its springboard approach is already chock-full of various functions that one can tap. I receive a daily deal via email and, for this example, got what looked like a totally-bad-for-the-diet (in a tasty kind of way) hot dog deal from DOGellos.
Unfortunately, clicking on the link in my email opened a Facebook page (in Safari, no less, rather than my Facebook iPhone app), where I was only presented the option of “Like”ing DOGellos, not actually buying the deal. To buy the deal, I had to view the link on my iPad or laptop. Odd.
Living Social – newer than Groupon or Facebook, Living Social broke on the scene bigtime earlier this year when it offered a $10 deal for a $20 gift card to purchase anything on Amazon (shortly after Amazon had made a very large $10s of millions of dollars investment in it).
While Living Social’s mobile phone UI offers a clean, colorful palette to get you started, the deals I found were less than desirable. The one daily deal listed in “Austin” – the Hill Country Ranch Pizzeria – is in actuality about halfway to Fredericksburg. A quaint weekend dinner adventure to tempt more than one party, but hardly a do-able lunch or dinner destination for most Austin-ites, as anyone from around here would know.
The final two big name deal apps to mention are Yahoo Deals and Deals by CitySearch. Of the two, I was more impressed with Citysearch app. First, what’s not to like about an app that features a pomegranate martini on its sign-in screen – classy. Second, I liked the ability to quickly switch between a map view and list view of the deals displayed.
Now, about those deals, Citysearch is basically the Jolly Roger of deals, pirating (I suspect via licensing arrangements) the deal content of the other majors. So, sure enough, that Neapolitan pizza we saw earlier in Groupon is there on the Citysearch deals map for the taking as well.
By comparison, Yahoo Deals is more like a Sears of deals to Citysearch’s Macy’s…more durables goods-oriented in its deal inventory with a bit more of an insular, utilitarian feel to the UI – definitely slower in loading and just plain unresponsive in certain sections.
Lastly, Google gets a special nod for spending oodles of promotional dollars on Google Places in advance of the service we’d really like to see in Austin ASAP, Google Offers. While Google Offers is currently only available Portland, New York, San Francisco, and Oakland, it’s clear when you look at Places’ iPhone UI that it is primed and ready to have Deals added to it.
Shoot, it’s even got the requisite Pizza icon as one of the primary options, right there on its home screen. For Austin Startup regulars, don’t miss the added incentive to try out the Places service before the June Austin Tech Happy Hour.