Q&A: Groupon Mobile Chief Mihir Shah
If Groupon wasn't already widely recognized as one of the country's fastest-growing companies, the $950 million the deal-sharing site raised earlier this month put an exclamation point on it with its rapid rise. As part of its expansion, Groupon last spring acquired mobile startup Mob.ly, headed by Mihir Shah, former senior director of product management at Yahoo. As vice president and general manager of mobile at Groupon, he now leads the company's mobile efforts. We caught up with Shah recently to ask about what's happening at the company on the all-important mobile front.
OMD: Can you briefly describe Groupon's mobile presence?
Shah: What we have in U.S. is an iPhone app, an Android app, a BlackBerry app, an [iPod] touch site and WAP (wireless access protocol) site. Consumers use all the mobile products for two reasons: one is to purchase Groupons and the other is for paperless transactions, so they can carry Groupons with them, show them to a merchant and redeem via the mobile screen.
OMD: How many downloads to date have there been of the Groupon app?
Shah: What I can say is that on iPhone and Android, which have been around the longest, we've seen 5 million downloads combined. The iPhone app has only been in the market since about April of last year, I think, and Android came several months later. And we're seeing pretty high growth in number of active users. We've seen significant growth in the last six months in terms of percentage of users who redeem from mobile.
OMD: Does customer behavior on mobile differ much from desktop Web?
Shah:Our whole product is about making that quick purchase decision -- the Deal of the Day -- and then printing it out and redeeming it. It's not a time-spend product, it's really an ecommerce product about trying to buy the deal that's best for you and then you're done. It's probably even better suited to mobile -- you arrive in a new city, you just pop out your app, you can see what the deals are that day and maybe you can buy one and use it immediately.
OMD: In that vein, what kind of location-based features work in connection with Groupon on mobile?
Shah: In a city, we'll have a certain number of deals available. Now if you turn on the app and it senses your current location, then offers the deals in that city, we'll try to give you the most relevant. That's the personalization we have now based on location and a couple of other things we collect. What we don't have now is for you to just to say 'I want deals just in a .5-mile radius that are available now,' from a pull perspective.
OMD: Is that a feature Groupon plans to add?
Shah: We don't really talk about future projects, but what we're doing right now is taking a look at things we can do to help our merchants to get customers to walk through the door at the right time. First when we launched it was just Deal of the Day, then we added multiple deals for a particular city, and then we added personalization on top of that so we could use your demographic, male or female, or use your location to try to give you a better deal, so we're going to continue down that path.
OMD: Can you talk a bit about the initiative to provide merchants apps to help process Groupon transactions?
Shah: So we have mobile redemption apps we shipped a few months ago where the merchant can scan the barcode off the consumer's phone or off the paper Groupon for automated redemption. Merchants can just download the apps -- an iPhone app or an Android app -- or we have a program where we actually give the devices to them. They can also enter the bill total so they can track customer overspend [on a deal] and that sort of thing. We now have several hundred merchants, even though it's a pilot program, already using this. And we're adding over 100 every week.
A lot of them already have employees that have smartphones, working the cash register -- and the way we we've built it, they can just download the app and log in. There's no secure information that would be revealed, and they can just start scanning. A lot of them have their own phones; you don't even have to provide them with the phone. They just use it and it automates the whole process.
OMD: If Google launches a direct Groupon competitor, as reported, would it have an instant advantage in mobile if a Google Offers were integrated with Android?
Shah: I haven't seen Google launch anything yet. Look, we have tons of clones and competitors out there. It's been a year and half since we've had clones [who compete with Groupon] all over the place. It hasn't really brought us down.