Facebook Deals extends Places offering

Facebook has launched a new service combining two hot topics - location-based mobile services, as seen in Foursquare, and shopping discounts, like Groupon. It's calling it Facebook Deals.

The service, which will be available on various types of smartphones in the near future, allows Facebook users to 'check in' to a business location to receive offers, discounts, and loyalty points.

While Facebook has had a location-based 'check in' app, known as Facebook Places, for quite some time, this marks its first attempt to properly monetise the service - and to offer its users monetary benefits for going to the effort of checking in.

It's a simple system: a user loads the Facebook Places app on their Android or iPhone smartphone, waits for it to find their current location from the network or GPS, and then 'checks in' to a nearby shop. When their visit is logged, they'll be presented with offers including discounts, secret sales, and so-called 'Golden Ticket' rewards for users who reach a certain milestone.

The benefit for retailers - and Facebook's advertising department - is obvious: using Facebook Places, it's possible for a shop to know exactly when a user has visited a shop, how often they visit, and if they make any comments on Facebook following their visit. Better still, Facebook has confirmed that there will be incentives for users to bring friends along when they check in - turning Facebook Places users into unpaid public relations officers for your company or brand.

The list of British launch partners reads like a who's-who of brands: Benetton, Mazda, Yo! Sushi, Starbucks, and Debenhams have all confirmed that they'll be taking part. Theme park Alton Towers has even announced that it will be offering completely free entry on the 18th of February for anyone who checks in to the park on Facebook Places.

By offering such deals to its users, Facebook Places might jump the hurdle that is preventing other 'check-in' apps such as Foursquare from reaching the mass market: the fact that many people simply can't be bothered to fiddle with their smartphone every time they go for a coffee or browse for clothes.

Interestingly, Facebook Deals is said to be completely free for both users and retailers - although the company didn't rule out adding a profit-share option in the future, once the service has taken off.