Facebook has rolled out a new service that lets you use your smartphone to find discounts at businesses close to you -- wherever you are. The Deals service relies on retailers to participate with Facebook in a mobile commerce play.
An extension of Facebook Places -- the so-called Foursquare killer Facebook launched in August -- members have to be checked into the retailer's location to access discounted deals. Facebook will begin launching the bargain-hunter tool over the next few days in the U.S. only.
"Everyone likes getting a good deal, but it's not always easy to find the right one at the moment you could use one," said Jon Fougner, a principal on Facebook's product marketing team. "Imagine that while you're looking for a new place to try for lunch, you could see offers from restaurants nearby on your phone."
Diving Into Discounts
Here's how it works: Tap the Check In button on the Places smartphone application. That will display a list of places near you. You can choose the place that matches where you are. If that place is not on the list, you can search for it or add it. Then, after you check in, Facebook will post a story in your friends' news feeds and your visit will show up in the recent activity section on the page for that place.
With the Deals addition, you can also now see what offers are nearby and share those deals with your friends. Nearby places with deals have a yellow icon. When you touch the place, you can view the deal and check in to claim it. Then just show your phone to the cashier to get your gift or discount.
"You'll see a few different types of deals: Individual deals for a discount, free merchandise or other reward, friend deals where you and your friends claim an offer together, loyalty deals for being a frequent visitor to a place, and charity deals where businesses pledge to donate to a cause when you check in," Fougner said. "Many other businesses are already planning deals in the coming weeks."
Show Me the Money
Early participants in the Deals offering include 24 Hour Fitness, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, American Eagle Outfitters, Chipotle, Gap, Golden State Warriors, JC Penney, McDonald's and Starbucks. For example, American Eagle is offering 20 percent off. Chipotle is giving its Facebook guests two entrées for the price of one. And Starbucks is donating $1 per guest to Conservation International.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Current Analysis, sees Deals as another opportunity for Facebook to create the engagement that brick-and-mortar retailers want. But Deals in its current form may be just the beginning of what Shimmin sees as a dynamic mobile commerce opportunity that could leverage Facebook Credits in the future.
"Retailers ultimately want consumers to walk into their place of business and receive a push notification to their mobile phone that welcomes them and offers them a discount," Shimmin said. "The technology is here and Facebook has the credit-card infrastructure in place to make it happen. Using a Facebook mobile phone app, it seems very easy. It's probably only a privacy setting away."