What Groupon got right in mobile

friends chatting with their smartphones

Groupon Q4 earnings from last week confirmed how mobile continues to be the bright spot for the company. Groupon embraced mobile from the beginning and mobile became a key growth driver at a time where many web-born companies were still struggling to adapt. As former Grouponer that managed and launched mobile products in the past, I often get asked from fellow product managers and developers to share the “secret sauce”.

There is no secret sauce that can be applied to any situation, but I thought I would share three of the lessons I learned on Groupon’s journey to build a mobile first company.

1. Design a habit, not a mobile experience

We used mobile as a tool to design a daily habit around Groupon. Great addictive experiences have distinctive characteristics and usually get this combination – reminder, discovery, action, gratification – right.

For Groupon, the morning notification or email is used as reminder to open the app to never miss a deal. The constantly refreshed offers make the discovery experience excitingly unpredictable and the purchase action leads to the gratification of getting a deal, different every time. The unpredictability of discovery and gratification is key to stimulate dopamine in our brain, which is what gets us wanting for more and helps create a habit.

Getting the reminderdiscoveryactiongratification combination right in mobile requires product optimization. The discovery experience should be effortless, preferably aided by gestures; the content should be optimized for on-the-go consumption; the actions should be streamlined and the gratification could trigger notifications to bring you back into the virtuous cycle of reminderdiscovery-action-gratification.

If you are interested in learning more about designing a habit, I suggest to check out the behavioral design work from BJ Fogg at Stanford and Nir Eyal’s Hooked book.

2. Define a cross-platform engagement model

As consumers use multiple devices in their daily life, in order to design a daily habit, we really needed to stop designing experiences in silos (web, email, mobile) that felt disconnected. We had to start defining a cross-platform engagement model with different touch points and we had to make sure transitions and hands-off were gracefully handled. For example, if your first touch point with the users is the email she reads on the mobile device during her morning commute, when you design your app, you would better start by optimizing the email for mobile and the transition to the app.

This cross-platform approach added more complexity, but forced us to become more system design thinkers and overall better product managers and designers.

3. Leverage Context to Be Relevant

Now that you defined touch points across different platforms, how do you make sure that every touch point is relevant?

The wealth of contextual information associated with the device comes in handy. Context is not just location though, but it may include the time of the day, the day of the week, the weather conditions, the user’s travel patterns and her implicit and explicit preferences. Combining context with push notifications allows you to engage consumers when it is most likely for them to act on.

Context also helps streamlining actions, which is key in mobile. For example, search auto-complete suggestions that take into account contextual information such as location, time and previous search history can turn a tedious task into a delightful and magical experience. Another key piece of context to consider when your users open the app is where they are in the lifecycle. You might want to design a complete different experience if it is a first time user, an engaged user or a user at retention risk.

In summary, looking back at my past Groupon experience, the main insight is that since the beginning we never considered Mobile as a channel. Because the device is always with you and brings with it a lot of context, we always approached mobile as an opportunity to shape a daily habit and engage consumers in context at different times of their day.


About TheFabio

I do not model, punch famous actors or try to catch birds on a roller coaster as my famous homonym. I am re-inventing the in-store experience @ shopkick. Previously built up mobile at Groupon, PayPal. Optimist, builder, coffee drinker.
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