The Keys To (Revelevant) Local Commerce Are Now Within Reach

So since we all now know daily deals aren’t the holy grail of local commerce, it begs the question “WHAT IS the holy grail of local commerce?”

I’ll throw in my hat and suggest a real-time product and service discovery platform within your local community would be a strong contender.  Imagine if the right information hit your mobile device just at the right time, suggesting (or urging) you to make a purchase or buy a product from a favorite merchant of yours, who happens to be right in front of you at the moment.

keysIt’ll happen.  And OfferSavvy is already treading in these waters.

I spoke with Justin Boggs, one of the OfferSavvy founders about the future of commerce, where he sees it going and how they are looking to roll out their product discovery platform.

A few years ago Boggs started to think about how Groupon, LivingSoclal and other daily deal sites were taking huge cuts from each deal sold but not adding much value to local commerce.  He thought “how do we track offline transactions, and do it better and in a more healthy way for the local economy?”

After going through Bizdom, an accelerator in Cleveland where they got advice and connections, they are now headquartered in Long Beach, CA and rolling out their first version of the product as we speak – a personalized product discovery platform with CashBack incentives on any purchases through the system.

Ideally, they aim to build out this commerce platform and offer it to brick and mortar companies to establish a full blown local product recommendation system, akin to what Amazon does on their properties.

The goal is to create something meaningful for business owners and local consumers, with cash back incentives for both if they opt for social sharing.

I sure hope they succeed, I cannot wait to get relevant deals and offers from a system that actually knows who I am, knows my interests, knows my favorite local merchants and understands my purchase history.

You can read the entire back and forth conversation below.

What is OfferSavvy?

OfferSavvy is a social commerce marketplace where people come to discover, share, collect and buy their favorite products. We incentivize social activity and reward users with CashBack Offers on Products and Social Bonuses when their social activity leads to sales. Users can elect to have their earnings deposited into their bank account or they can donate those funds to charity AND OfferSavvy will match that donation.

We believe we have figured out how to truly create social engagement around the shopping experience in a meaningful way. Most importantly, our goals are to present each user with a personalized experience and a wall of relevant offers. So with our advanced recommender technology, artificial intelligence machine learning software, graph database, and natural language processing capabilities, we can acutely monitor a users interaction with our website and people on the site, and then begin to customize the experience for each user. Thus we help people shop for fun and with purpose.

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What’s the vision?  And what problem is OfferSavvy solving?

OfferSavvy is shopping evolved. People love to window shop, score great deals, and tell their friends all about it. OfferSavvy delivers that experience in one place, and we help people earn some extra cash based on their social connectivity. Moreover, the best form of advertising is word of mouth. Big brands and marketers know this. You probably realize this too, as your friend’s opinions are more important to you than some paid advertisement.

So, we encourage our users to be social and share offers that they discover through OfferSavvy. And each track every link that is shared. Therefore, when any social activity leads to new signups and sales through OfferSavvy, we give a little Social Bonus to the user for being the catalyst to that activity. Every user now has the power to earn dollars just for being social. Plus for the millions of American’s that need their dollars to stretch just a bit further, every product on our platform has a CashBack offer attached to it, so you can find the products that you really want- and earn CashBack in the process.

Our longterm vision for OfferSavvy is to build out the commerce rails to allow any business to actively engage with us and make Offers through our platform. This will give our users a unified experience, and allow them to stay on our website rather than be redirected third party websites to buy products. In addition, we have already written card linked offer software, as a means to close the loop for offline redemption in store. So, when I am able to build out this vision, OfferSavvy will be a grand catalog of CashBack Offers, both online and offline, to your favorite brands and merchants. We will be able to serve up real time, geo-located, personalized, mobile and cardlinked offers for our users. This way we can help people earn rewards off of every transaction they make each month. If you think about all the money you spend each month, how meaningful would it be in your life to get 5-15% of that back… we can truly impact lives here, while building cool technology.

How do users discover and use OfferSavvy?

We just went live last week, so we have started contact all of our friends, family, and connections directly. So people are coming to the site mostly through a direct link to the site. In addition, the website is built on the premise of social shopping, which means that each of us spends time using the product, creating collections, and sharing products with friends through social media. This has lead to promising traffic from Pinterest and Facebook, and a couple of visits from Tumblr and Stumbleupon.  As time goes on, traffic in large part will be through natural search for products, and given are large catalog, we can compete for page rank.

What’s the story behind OfferSavvy?  Any lessons to share?

The initial thoughts and ideas were came to me a few years ago, since that time I have continue to iterate and cultivate what is now OfferSavvy. Officially, the company was started June 2012, when we got some initial seed funding.

Some things I’ve learned from building startups is that nothing happens unless you do it, and you can truly never expect anybody else to be invested in your ideas the way you are. So you really need to be passionate about what you are doing, and love working, because for the first several years, work life balances shouldn’t exist- if you want to build something truly impactful.

Another interesting thought is just how startups are a lot about “hurry up and wait”. You have this grand vision for what this thing could be, and you want it tomorrow, but come to find out that it is going to take quite some time to build such a thing.

Also, as the founder, remember that you don’t have to be the best at everything, instead try to be the maestro, and get the right and best people for each role of the orchestra.. the genius is witnessing the music as your group plays in concert, in harmony.

What is the company’s current status? (funding, beta, users)

We have raised a little over $300k in seed funding thus far. We now have a live product open for consumption, and watching intently as users begin to interact with our platform. Ideally we want to use data and user feedback to shape this into the product that people truly want to use. And we can take the evolution in development and modifications in stride as we have structured release cycles in agile development. This allows us to be nimble, and redirect development efforts quickly as users begin to tell us, and show us the right way to go. We are also looking to raise additional funding that would give us a 9-12 month run rate, so we can focus on user acquisition and engagement on the website.

What’s next?

We have some fun hacks under way as we speak that is truly ground breaking. In the next few weeks you can expect to see the release of some social products that are completely unique to OfferSavvy. One such hack will allow users to not only make comments on products or collections, but respond with hashtags.  You might say, “Hashtags” aren’t new? To which I reply, ‘what if’ every hashtag pulled the top user generated tweets & Instagram Pics in real time into the thread?  People would not only be discovering new and interesting products, but they would find additional rich social content surrounding that product.

So with a hashtag system in place you could not only read what people think or how they feel about the products, you can see the latest tweets about the product from all over the web attached to that hashtag, and you could see the most recent Instagram Pictures that people snapped with that product or brand with that hashtag. Check out our “Featured” section today to see this in action in a slightly different way, but it will give you a good idea of the direction we want to go socially.

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Mobile Payments: Siri Hears Your Words And Pays Your Rent In Seconds

Siri is an amazing step forward in computing technology.

So is Seconds.

Seconds enables customers direct interact and transaction with merchants through the mobile web.  When a consumer attaches their payment credentials to their Seconds account, they have effectively transformed their phone into a transactional device.  With Seconds, people can send quick messages and easily make transactions with merchants using the service.  Even more cool, because Seconds is driven through text messaging, if a person is holding an iPhone 4S they can use Siri to complete the mobile transactions with Seconds by simply saying the keyword.

Here’s how it works when you imagine a scenario such as paying rent, which is something we are set to pilot test in Seconds this month.  When rent is due, all you have to do is:

You say: Send a message to landlord  “Pay Rent”

Siri says: OK, here’s your message to your landlord: “Pay rent.”  Are you ready to send it?

You say: Yes

Siri says: message sent

Two seconds later you receive a text “Your account has been charged  $1,200 for your rent.  That’s it! Your rent is paid & you can get on with your life.

How did Siri know who to send the message to and how much you should pay your landlord for rent?

Seconds allows merchants to program their account and customize keywords with specific dollar amounts which act as triggers to charge a Seconds user’s mobile payment account.  So in this scenario, the landlord was able to simply plug in the amount of money “Pay Rent” would translate with and then told their tenants to just text their number and pay in Seconds next month.  This specific tenant was able to tell Siri to pay his rent for him.  And because had labeled his Landlord in his phone contacts, Siri was able to do the job quickly and easily.

Seconds and Siri are a perfect match, and we see a future where payments are so seamless we won’t even have to take out our phones (let alone our wallets).  In the future, your phone numbers + a pin will be all the payment credentials you will need.

The interesting thing about Seconds is not just the transactional component – which is definitely cool – but the communications aspect as well.  Seconds sits directly at the convergence of communications and transactions, and enables each at certain times and both when appropriate.  It’s truly a 21st century communications and commerce platform fit for almost any merchant – large or small, corporate or independent.

It’s my belief there will be many different players in the payments space, but merchants and consumers will not tolerate a plethora of options and varying requirements based upon specific merchants.  It will be far too confusing and there will need to be some market convergence as time goes on.  Consumers will most likely choose the option which is 1) quickest to use, 2) most widely accepted, 3) is not affected by a specific device they are holding, and 4) the easiest to understand.

We like where we sit within the ecosystem and look forward to a great future ahead.  It’s only the beginning.  If you are not familiar with Seconds, here is a quick video of someone paying for a “wrap” by simply texting the words.  Note:  this is not a demo, it’s the real Seconds experience happening every day and will soon be in your hands as well!

Groupon, Google, Ebay or Amazon: Who Will Win The Local Market?

No doubt he local space is heating up.  We are starting to see an all out war and currently there are 4 major players lining up their guns and taking aim on the local marketplace.

Groupon recently went public on the Nasdaq and is the undisputed king of daily deals, creating a new movement in local commerce known as the group coupon.  Yet things are not all rosy as they also created quite a bit of controversy as they approached the finish line.  Their numbers are greatly scrutinized  and they can’t seem to shake questions regarding the validity and sustainability of their current model.  Groupon no doubt made a significant splash in the local space, but do they have what it takes to transform our daily consumer lifestyle?

Google’s eyes have been on the local economy ever since they realized a critical mass of searches are local in origin.  Early on they knew local was a goldmine, the tough part has been designing products which bridge the gap between local consumer and local merchant in a way that adds value for both.  Google Places, HotPot, the purchase of Zagat, the failed acquisition of Groupon, and now Google Offers are all attempts to make a play on the local marketplace.  But to date it is hard to argue they have made any significant progress in solving the local market conundrum.  Will they do it?

EBay, the buyer/seller marketplace who has lingered on the outskirts of the web for more than a decade (and hinged earnings on a payment platform) looks to be emerging as a solid player in the local marketplace.  The combination of a number of acquisitions have placed them in a drivers seat helping power the next generation of location specific platforms.  Milo, Magento, Zong and Where all offer unique value propositions that when grouped together create a strong combination – and a strong competitor to the Googles and Amazons of the world.  This is one to watch…

The king of worldwide online commerce is Amazon, and I guarantee they their sights are set on the last mile of the web – the local market.  Their $175 million investment in LivingSocial seem a lot like a “look and feel” investment as they watch how the landscape is taking shape.  Make no mistake, the leader in worldwide e-commerce would love to be the worldwide leader in local commerce as well.  The question is, do they know how to do it in the way the everyday consumer will appreciate?

Ultimately, it is nearly impossible to predict who will eventually win out in the local market.   Remember, Google was late to the search party…

Another valid question is: will any of these major players hit the home run or will a new, tremendously different but effective startup with a better combination of commerce and communications transform our everyday consumer experience?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Mobile Commerce Will Be HUGE

Mobile commerce is starting to show its legs.  Groupon just announced it will be seeing half of revenue coming from mobile devices sometime in the next two years.  This coincides with what Mary Meeker has been saying for so many years – the mobile web will be HUGE.  Look at the chart below, you can see it is predicted global mobile users will overtake desktop users within the next 5 years.  Think about that for a second.

According to Mary Meeker:

“the world is currently in the midst of the fifth major technology cycle of the past half a century. The previous four were the mainframe era of the 1950s and 60s, the mini-computer era of the 1970s and the desktop Internet era of the 80s. The current cycle is the era of the mobile Internet, she says — predicting that within the next five years “more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.”

This shift has major implications for consumers as well a businesses.  Shopkick, a mobile app initially created for in-store shopping experiences, now allows users to create a custom area for their favorite retailers.  Remember how you throw away most of the advertisements and mailers you receive each day.  This is the opposite.  It’s all the best deals right in front of your face.

If you are a local business, your customers are theoretically always connected to you and your products or services.  Think: how can you add value to them on a daily basis.  If you are a consumer, odds are you carry a device in which pretty much anything (or anyone) in the world is just a few taps away.  Think: what new place/thing can I discover in my city today.

As a consumer, in what ways do you use your mobile to interact with your local community?  And what do you wish you could do?  In today’s world, you might just get what you ask for…