Greg Grunberg is a busy man: he plays Matt Parkman on the NBC series "Heroes," plays in a charity rock band with "House" star Hugh Laurie, and works to raise awareness about epilepsy, from which one of his three children suffers. Add to that list a fourth role, iPhone entrepreneur.
Grunberg is the creator and driving force behind the Yowza app, which is offered free to consumers and provides a platform for retailers to distribute mobile coupons and special offers. The app uses the iPhone's geolocation ability to determine exactly where a shopper is and serve up coupons within a specified radius.
"We're not incredibly frugal, but we do use coupons and try to save money, and teach our kids that stuff," he said, recalling a family visit to Bed Bath and Beyond, a store that he and his wife regularly save coupons for. One particular day he left those coupons in the car, and with three kids in tow, going back to get them felt like too much of a hassle. "I looked at my wife and said, 'Why doesn't somebody use the geolocation technology in my phone?' Make it easy for me. Show me what's around me."
That's precisely what Yowza does. Users pick their desired radius (from one mile up to 50) and the app does the rest, showing the names of participating retailers, number of locations and the number of offers each one currently has. Retailers pay $49 per month per location to be listed on the app, and for that price they can list up to five different offers. The app currently has more than 1 million users.
Getting retailers on board was the biggest challenge, Grunberg said.
"At first, it was chicken-and-egg," he said. "I knew I could get consumers to download the app, but only if there were retailers on there. All my press is national, so I had to get retailers that reached as far and wide as I could. So we started with the mall model of, let's get some big anchor stores, then fill in with smaller places."
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Yowza's big anchor stores currently include Sears, Toys R Us and The Container Store.
"The local stuff is filling in like crazy," he added. "I owned a frozen yogurt store years ago, and I couldn't spend less than a couple hundred dollars to get some kid to hand out fliers."
Every participating retailer, big or small, gets near-real-time data on offer redemption, as well as the ability to change the five offers at any time via a Web interface. Grunberg said that one of his large retail locations analyzed its data over the course of two months, and found that the average Yowza shopper was 10 years younger and spent 20 percent more per purchase than a regular shopper.
New features in the pipeline for the app include categorization of store by type, push notifications that can target individual shoppers based on their movement, and unique barcoding, which Grunberg said will be a must-have in order to get giant retailers to sign up.
With a grin in you could hear his voice, he took a gentle swipe at the geolocation marketing tool that has so far received the most public attention, Foursquare.
"At the end of the day, (Yowza is) not about a game," he said. "I like playing games and being the mayor of my local shop just like anybody else, but when it comes down to it, it's all about saving money and simplicity. We don't want to hold up anybody in line. It's got to be super easy. Our model is, if our moms can't use it, it's not worth it. Push one button, show it to the clerk, and move on. It's got to be simple."
Critical and public reception
The Yowza app currently has a 2.5 star (out of 5) rating on the iTunes app store, based on approximately 2,200 ratings.
Pierre Barbeau, CEO of mobile tech company Moblico and creator of the Sprint PictureMail service, dismissed the app as a "mobile version of ValPak," saying the experience ends with the coupon, not drawing the user in for further value.
But Bryan Maleszyk, digital strategist and experience designer with Isobar North America, took a much kinder view. "Yowza's interface is clean, simple and direct," he said. "When you open the app you're immediately taken to deals for stores near you, with a nice interface to adjust the geographic range. The coupon barcode scanning is slick — it makes it easy for the cashier to redeem the coupon the way we use real, paper-based coupons."
He also praised how the app keeps track of how much money the user has saved over time, which he said adds a game-like mechanic to the experience. He found the app's social component a slight miss, though:
"The now-ubiquitous 'share' on Facebook, Twitter or email feature exists, but it doesn't really provide any service or value other than to promote the app," he said. "Instead of sharing how much you saved and where, the ability to send a coupon to a person you know would likely benefit the retailer, the user and the app, more than it does now."