Facebook launches instant smartphone coupons

Facebook has launched a service that allows businesses to offer users deep discounts through its smartphone application.

Users physically out shopping who “check in” to the Facebook Places programme via their mobile smartphone will be presented with an offer they can redeem immediately in the store.

The Facebook Deals programme has been launched in the US, but will be rolled out internationally in the coming months.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social networking site, said on Wednesday that Facebook Places had moved ahead of the competition and become the largest check-in service for smartphone users.

Businesses will be able to use a self-service interface to create their own deals and publish them on Facebook, a feature that will eliminate the need for a sales force to sign up businesses. Facebook does not take a cut from the deals.

Several national chains are launching deals in the coming days. Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle will give Facebook users two entrées for one. Macy’s will offer 20 per cent off merchandise while Gap will give away a pair of jeans to the first 10,000 people who check in to a store on an upcoming day.

The announcement came as Facebook upgraded its mobile applications for the iPhone and Google’s Android platform, and introduced a single sign-on feature that allows users to easily sign in to other mobile applications using their Facebook profile.

Coupons and loyalty cards have until now largely remained offline, wedged in peoples’ wallets. But Facebook Deals should go a long way to bringing them online as the offers are rolled out to the social network’s more than 500m members.

Location-based social networks such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt have been generating interest for years, but have failed to catch on with the mass market. In August, Facebook launched its own version of the service, called Places, but continues to partner with these companies.

Now, the Deals programme could help make “checking in” squarely mainstream, said Augie Ray, Forrester Research technology analyst.

“Until now a lot of people have just played with Places, there hasn’t been a reason to adopt it,” said Mr Ray. “With the Deals offering, they’ve done something pretty remarkable. Making it easy for businesses will drive tremendous adoption.”

Jon Fougner, a principal on Facebook’s product marketing team, said: “We launched Places to let you share where you are with your friends and see who’s nearby. Now with Deals, you also can see what offers are nearby and share those deals with your friends.”

There is also a charitable component. Starbucks will donate $1 for each presented check-in to Conservation International, and McDonald’s will donate $1 for each presented check-in to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

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