Former Shopkick Employees Launch Shopular, a Passbook-Style Ambient Coupon App

Today Palo Alto-based Shopular, a location-based app that notifies consumers of relevant coupons while they’re in a given retail store, announced the official launch of its iPhone and Android apps with a rollout across the U.S. in over 1000 shopping malls, including Simon Malls, GGP, Westfield and others. The Y Combinator-backed company launched in beta three weeks ago in time for Black Friday, and has had more than 250,000 downloads since then, adding existing deals from other big name retailers like Target, Walmart, and JC Penney in time for today’s launch.

Co-founders Navneet Loiwal, a former Google engineer in India, and Tommy Tsai, formerly of Loopt (acquired by Green Dot), both met while at Shopkick, a mobile shopping rewards app in the same space, before coming together to launch Shopular. “There are a lot of coupons, lots of saving opportunities out there, but it is such a big hassle to research and find those opportunities and use them when you’re standing at the check-out counter of a store,” said Loiwal in an interview with BetaKit. “A lot of attention has been paid to ecommerce and e-coupons where you’re at the comfort of your home…but nobody has targeted an experience that just needs to work when you’re at the store.”

Shopular aims to create a frictionless experience for shoppers looking to save money, and works in a ‘set and forget’ manner similar to other ambient location apps like Highlight so that users don’t need to remember to open it up at the check out counter. Using geo-fencing technology, users are notified with relevant coupons and deals when they’re in a given proximity of a retailer and can then use them when they check out. Users can redeem coupons at the point of sale, either by scanning a bar code, QR code, or entering a coupon code. The app learns from users’ shopping habits and serves up more personalized and customized deals based on which stores they visit most often, and which coupons they redeem. The deals on the system aren’t created specifically for Shopular, rather the company has a team that aggregates existing deals from retailers, vetting them to make sure coupons aren’t expired or invalid.

The mobile apps are available for free, with Shopular looking to start conversations with retailers early 2013 about strategic partnerships to better communicate with its growing user base. The company believes this will help retailers with their customer retention strategy by rewarding frequent consumers and luring shoppers away from competitors with better cost savings, something Loiwal believes retailers will pay for.

Companies looking to help shoppers save by connecting them with timely coupons and deals include the likes of Promofly, which BetaKit covered earlier in the year, and is focused exclusively on ecommerce coupon codes. There are others like Retailmenot that provide both online and offline coupons, whereas startups like Shopkick and Shopsavvy are mobile-only and focused on the same problem as Shopular. The company’s biggest competition might be Apple’s new Passbook feature, since while consumers have to download Shopular and other apps, Apple’s Passbook comes preinstalled with every iOS 6 device and lets retailers leverage geo-fencing technology to provide timely deals.

One challenge with apps like Shopular is educating merchants, since not every cashier will be familiar with the app when a customer tries to redeem a deal. Startups like Checkout51 are trying to take retailers out of the equation, letting consumers snap a photo fo their receipt after they shop to get cash back on promoted items. SnipSnap, which updated its iPhone app yesterday, lets consumers take a photo of a printed coupon to upload to the app, but right now they only support retailer coupons, not manufacturer coupons, so the challenge seems to be not only how to reach consumers with deals, but how to educate retailers on mobile coupon redemption.

According to Loiwal, where the company looks to stand apart from the pack is being as low-maintenance as possible, meaning users won’t have to ever think about the app once downloaded and only receive deals that are relevant at a particular moment, in addition to delivering more personalized deals as users interact with the app.

Shopular will be expanding to include deals from standalone chain department stores not in malls, and the company hopes to also launch in Canada and Europe in 2013. With a background at popular mobile shopping rewards app Shopkick, and an app that takes advantage of ambient technology to take the onus away from the user when it comes to finding and redeeming deals, if the company can win over merchants and make the checkout experience seamless, it could be a strong contender in the mobile coupon space.

Humayun Khan

Humayun Khan

Humayun Khan is a Senior Writer and Analyst at BetaKit. A marketing graduate with honors, Humayun's work experience spans the fields of consumer behaviour with noted contributions in an academic paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology and market research consulting having coordinated projects for a major financial services client at Decode Inc. More recently he was involved in business strategy as a Business Analyst for an equipment rental outlet and prior in the National Marketing Department at Ernst & Young LLP. He is passionate about emerging and disrupting technology and its ability to transform and create entirely new industries.

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