Groupon’s VP of mobile, David Katz, says that it has been “business as usual” at the daily deals company since the dramatic departure of founder/CEO Andrew Mason. “We’re still just focused on shipping new stuff,” Katz told TechCrunch in an interview. Today, that includes news of updates to Groupon’s iPhone and Android apps: it is adding a universal search feature that will let consumers use the apps to search for Marketplace deals that are available nearby, covering not just local discounts that are time-sensitive but rolling offers that are not.
The search feature lays the groundwork for a larger attack that publicly traded Groupon is making on mobile to stay competitive in location-based mobile services against the likes of Google, Yelp and Foursquare — with the latter just raising $41 million to position itself as a platform for local search, offering local deals as an added twist. It’s an area that Facebook too is targeting, as evidenced by its mobile app update today. With the search feature available now in the U.S., Groupon plans to turn the feature on across the rest of its mobile footprint this year, Katz says.
On top of the new search updates, the Android app is now able to support tablets, the first time that it has been optimized for screens of up to 10 inches.
And while the iPad app is not getting an update today, Groupon says that this week it is extending the number of countries where it will work. Belgium, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and Switzerland are getting added, taking the total to 18 countries.
That’s still a far cry from the 42 that Groupon supports with its iPhone app, but Katz says that they hope to reach parity “by the end of the year, if not sooner.” iOS usage, he says, “still dominates” on Groupon’s platform but the company’s move to roll out features like search internationally, into countries where Android is stronger than iOS, may see that balance changing, which is why it’s important for Groupon to not only keep updating that Android app but add tablet support, as well.
Groupon’s bid to “transition from being just daily deals into a more complete offering,” in Katz’s words, is so far showing signs that it is paying off, with both mobile and non-time-specific Marketplace deals playing roles in that.
About half of the company’s local transaction volume in North America is coming from its Deals Marketplace at the moment, and that deal bank (Groupon’s internal term for the Marketplace) has grown by 300 percent compared to last year, with 37,000 active deals last quarter.
Meanwhile, the company reported last quarter that 40 percent of transactions are being completed on mobile devices, with mobile users typically spending 50 percent more than web customers. While Groupon doesn’t break out what that means in terms of actual revenues, as a rough calculation North America saw overall revenues of $375 million last quarter, which would work out to $150 million of revenues on mobile for the period. (Of course, that revenue also came with an operating loss of $12.9 million and a loss per share of 12 cents, signs that the company needs to drastically continue to expand its business and margins to sustain itself longer term.) The product enhancements appear to have come in conjunction with a rise in stock.
Putting search on the mobile apps brings these two strands together: “Search has been the most-requested feature,” says Katz. “And we now have the inventory on the back end to bring it to mobile.” Although in face Groupon said that it released the feature earlier this month on iPhone, it’s been testing it out quietly to ensure it worked without bugs before publicising it. Search is available from anywhere within the app, which also makes it more likely people will use it.
While there are a number of third-party companies able to power local search features — Foursquare’s API is used by some 40,000+ developers — Katz says that Groupon built its own search engine as part of its investment in “data science and algorithmic ranking,” and its own bid to become a search company. “We are becoming a different company technologically,” he says.
Katz wouldn’t comment on whether Groupon would use the search feature as a window to other data, such as local listings and user reviews — two areas already hotly contested by its rivals — but he did hint that there may be more news in this area soon.
“We have such a large mobile audience that we have an opportunity to do more,” he says.