Facebook Deals could bridge the gap that exists between local merchants and online advertising, as the social network’s massive user base of 500 million-plus people provides fertile ground to match businesses with consumers.
Google doesn’t have anything like Deals, a service Foursquare will be hard-pressed to match because of the sheer size of Facebook’s network.
Still, Google hinted to eWEEK that it’s got some social tricks up its sleeve, while Foursquare said it isn’t concerned about falling behind Facebook.
Deals connects U.S. consumers with local businesses via the Facebook Places check-in social service from the Facebook for iPhone 3.3 application.
Users are able to claim deals, such as blue jeans from the Gap, 20 percent off from American Eagle Outfitters or $1 per person donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities. More than 20 businesses are on board for Deals.
Facebook and businesses win because these game mechanics easily link consumers on the go with stand-alone shops and strip-mall retailers. Facebook is urging the small businesses to advertise their wares on its social network to boost awareness of Deals.
Foursquare shrugged off the Deals launch, telling eWEEK that many products are now integrating check-ins and tools for local merchants.
“We already have tens of thousands of active specials running our platform, and soon we’ll be rolling out some new features that will make it even easier for businesses and brands to connect with customers and reward loyalty,” said Foursquare.
Google isn’t worried because it’s got something else social up its sleeve; it just isn’t saying what that is yet.
John Hanke, vice president of product management for Google’s geo/local initiatives, noted that while product management personnel don’t worry about what rivals are doing, “we aren’t finished with our work yet.”
“All I would say is that I think it’s a really important area that’s definitely relevant to local. Stay tuned.”
What Is Google Doing to Answer Deals?
Still, there’s no doubt Google doesn’t have anything like Facebook Deals.
Google has Google Places, which lets businesses claim their Place pages on Google.com and Google Maps. These businesses may set up their own ads using Google Boost and call even more attention to products and services with Tags.
But there is really no social component; that exists in separate products called Google Latitude and Google Buzz for mobile.
Latitude is a friend-finding app that has between 3 million and 4 million users, though how many are active is less clear.
Google Buzz for mobile lets users check in by posting status updates from their mobile phone, so in a way it’s a little like Facebook Places, albeit without the big social network in the background.
Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray is skeptical of Google’s prospects for these products, which are not used to tie consumers to the local businesses in Google Places, versus Deals and Foursquare.
“Many of the people using Latitude have not connected with any friends, it lacks the sort of game mechanics that have driven engagement with other location platforms, and many of the users have activated Latitude on their phone and then generally forgotten about it,” Ray said.
Moreover, Ray doesn’t see how Google adding check-ins to Latitude, Buzz for mobile or Places would lure consumers away from the points, mayorships and deals being offered by Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Deals.
Ray also suggested that Google may want to collaborate rather than compete with Facebook, noting that with Facebook opening up its Places API, Google and others can take consumers’ check-in data and behaviors and turn it into something valuable.
Yet given Google’s latest action of banning Facebook from automatically enabling users to import their Gmail contacts into the social network, a snowball might stand a better chance in hell than Google using Facebook’s Places API.