Facebook launches mobile deals

Rory Cellan-Jones discovers why Facebook is offering businesses the chance to promote themselves for free on the site.

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Facebook is launching a service that lets British users earn discounts from high street businesses.

Users who visit participating shops can log in from their mobile phones to receive rewards.

Companies, meanwhile can use Facebook Deals as a virtual loyalty card or coupon system.

The social network has already lined up promotions with several businesses including Starbucks, Debenhams and mobile network O2.

The service ties into Facebook Places, an add-on for mobile phones that launched in 2010 as a way for users to share their location with friends.

Users who login to Places via the dedicated Facebook app for the iPhone and handsets running Google's Android system can update their whereabouts - or "check in" - whenever they visit a variety of shops, restaurants and other venues.

With Deals, users will not just be able to tell other people their location, but can also take advantage of any special offers that the retailer has.

"Your life is not just about the people in it, but also the experiences you are having and the places around you," said Joanna Shields, Facebook's vice president of Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Bonus rewards

As well as discounts and special offers, Deals can also allow participating retailers to use Facebook to offer "golden ticket" rewards or give bonuses to users who bring other friends along with them.

It can also be used by businesses to link up with charities — for example, users checking in to Argos shops will trigger a £1 donation by the company to Teenage Cancer Trust.

Facebook on a phone Users must 'check in' on their phones to access deals and discounts.

Deals launched in November in America, and its early success has convinced the company to expand, with today's launch covering not only the UK but also Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

Launch partners in Britain include Benetton, Yo! Sushi, Alton Towers and Mazda. The company says it is working on more partnerships and that it also plans to move beyond major high street brands.

"Over time we plan on expanding such that small businesses can have access to these deals," said Emily White, a former Google advertising executive hired by Facebook last year to run the company's local products.

The service is intended to capitalise on Facebook's popularity, particularly on phones.

Around a third of Facebook's 650 million users worldwide use the company's mobile application or access the website from their handset.

The service is free to retailers and shoppers alike, and Facebook will not take a slice of any income generated by the deals.

Instead, the social networking giant hopes that it can forge more valuable deals with advertisers by encouraging foot traffic into their shops and making them more visible to its vast user base.

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