Will Facebook Deals Trump Groupon? Or LivingSocial? Or Google Offers?

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Today, Facebook is launching a social flash deals service simply called Facebook Deals in five test cities: Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, San Diego, and San Francisco. (Why not NYC? Boston? Nothing in the Northeast?) On the one hand, the service is basically yet another of the hundreds of Groupon copycats, amounting to more daily deal overkill. On the other, Facebook’s tweaks and innovations could revolutionize the deals market, and wind up way bigger than Groupon, BuyWithMe, LivingSocial, Google Offers, or any other of the many wheeler dealers out there.

After news first leaked through a NY Times blog last night, the web, which is pretty nuts about deals in general, is abuzz about Facebook Deals. Take a quick glimpse at some sample deals, however, and they may just seem, well, like regular old deals. Mashable listed a couple examples:

Examples of the new breed of Facebook Deals from brands include “unlimited bowling with six friends for an evening for $60 (75% off)” and “luxury winery tour and 25% off all wine purchases for $50.”

Seems pretty Groupon-ish, doesn’t it? Just more and more fun, tempting offers on stuff you don’t need.

But if Facebook is good at anything, it’s the social-connecting part, and while many daily deals sites have been trying to somehow make offers seem social, they’re pretty much just promotions to get people to buy something they wouldn’t have otherwise — and they typically have little to do with socializing or sharing. Facebook Deals instead promises that its promos will truly make the concept of social deals a reality.

As Facebook’s Emily White told the AP:

“We’re building a product that is social from the ground up,” says Emily White, director of local for Facebook. “All of these deals are things you want to do with friends, so no teeth whitening, but yes to river rafting.”

Facebook Deals can show up in your e-mail in-box if that’s what you want, but they’ll also appear in your news feed—and of course, friends can share deals with each other, and in some cases, they’ll get an additional discount for doing so. Through incentives like these, and habits already ingrained in folks who use social media 24/7, these deals seem apt to spread like wildfire.

Perhaps an even bigger advance comes via a new payment system for deals. Sure, you can use a credit card. But at some point in the near future, the plan is that Facebook Deals can also be paid for with Credits, Facebook’s virtual currency. Thus far, Credits are useful (useless?) pretty much only for virtual goods purchased in the course of online games. Soon, Credits can be turned in to buy vouchers for winery tours, river rafting trips, and the like.

A ReadWriteWeb post describes the possible impact of this innovation, with understated eloquence:

They will be the first real-world, non-virtual goods that will be available for purchase with this new currency. Kids are going to burn through this stuff like there’s no tomorrow. Load up with Credits with the intention of giving it to Zynga for Cityville crap and end up spending it at The Gap instead. Or vice-versa. When beloved national retailers start offering goods and lower prices to customers who pay with a new, virtual currency – that’s when said virtual currency becomes a force to reckon with.

And considering Facebook has more than 500 million users—most, presumably, who like deals and have some cash to burn—Deals certainly is a force to be reckoned with.


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