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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Startups make smartphones more useful for buyers and sellers

Vancouver startup TikTok aims to give local retailers the ability to offer customers what CEO Dorian Banks calls “virtual happy hours”

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2012 First published in Business in Vancouver October 9, 2012 Issue #1198 High Tech Office column

Building marketplace communities is crucial for employers and employees. That message was hammered home at the recent Grow Conference in Vancouver by people like Martin-Luc Archambault of Wajam.

His Montreal-based company uses the community you already have by integrating comments posted on social networks by your connections into your online searches – making search social within the search tools you're already using.

After setting up an account – free but advertising-supported – relevant postings from your social networking contacts will appear first in the search results when you browse in Google, Yahoo, Bing or Twitter.

Looking online for a restaurant in Yaletown? Wajam will blend in what your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ contacts posted about their restaurant visits. Try it when shopping for a computer printer or a new car – assuming your social networking contacts have said anything about those product categories.

Newly released: support for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.). Not an app, Wajam-mobile sneaks its recommendations into search results in the Safari and Maps apps. Users make this happen by installing a Wajam Profile on their phone and authorizing it to change the HTTP proxy settings. (Wajam walks you through the geeky parts.)

Archambault suspects that Apple is not pleased that Wajam is using this back door way to add content to Apple's iOS apps.

Wajam stipulates that it protects users' privacy and does not store social network passwords or share postings, contents or searches – it only uses content that its users' social network contacts have agreed to share.

Vancouver startup TikTok aims to give local retailers the ability to offer customers what CEO Dorian Banks calls "virtual happy hours." When smartphone or tablet users (iOS or Android) in one of a select number of cities install the app and set up an account they start receiving free offers.

No purchase required? Not quite. On my screen right now, I've got a golf offer allowing me to "Purchase 1 Green Fee + Get a 2nd Free." Another offers "Free 20 min Back Massage w. Purchase of Pedicure." And from a downtown restaurant: "Buy 1 Appetizer + Get 1 Free."

Offers are time limited – the restaurant deal is in effect for the next six hours and 47 minutes, for instance, and they're geographically oriented. I gave the app permission to report on my location and provided optional demographic information: age, gender, home and work address. Typically offers are sent out to users within a three-kilometre radius of the retailer.

According to Banks, retailers can use offers to bring in business during normally slow periods or to help move excess inventory. Two-for-one last-minute tickets, anyone?

Users of the app can accumulate "karma" points by sharing offers on Facebook or Twitter; TikTok is giving iPads to users who accumulate 2,500 points. Unlike with, say, Groupon, TikTok users don't pay in advance. They just display the deal on their phone to the retailer.

In Vancouver, where the service was first offered last spring, there are more than 30,000 users. The company has expanded to Calgary and San Francisco and plans to offer the service in Los Angeles next. Even though there's no formal service in Toronto yet, Banks said that more than 600 copies of the app have been downloaded there, and Toronto retailers have expressed interest.

Retailers enrolling with TikTok can send out two deals for free each week; additional deals cost $25 each with increased cost for offers that are more targeted.

Tik Tok provides retailers with data about their deals: how many potential customers received the offer, where they were, how many times the deal was shared on social networks and more.

Banks says that retailers can target tourists. I'll be in San Francisco next week; I'll be curious to see if the TikTok app knows I'm there and gives me local offers aimed at visitors.