Home New Mobile App Helps You Find Uncrowded Places to Get Deals on Food & Drink

New Mobile App Helps You Find Uncrowded Places to Get Deals on Food & Drink

What venues nearby are the least crowded right now? A new iPhone app called What Spot Now launched today and aims to answer that question with a combination of blurred webcam photos taken every 30 seconds and automatic deals pushed to users when participating venues are low on customers. The company is launching with 15 bars and restaurants in food- and microbrew-capital city Portland, Oregon. “You can see what places are like before going there,” the company tells would-be users. Non-iPhone owners can visit m.whatspotnow.com to use the service.

I’ve got to confess – I heard about this app months ago and thought it sounded absurd, offensive, creepy and pointless. Now that it’s live, though, I’m impressed. There may not be a discount offered at the moment, but I may need to run down to the coffee and Wi-Fi spot BackSpace – the tables near the outlets are all open and available right now!

Above: Someone just snuck into one of the tables at BackSpace, but at least the ones closest to the power strip are still empty. It looks very quiet there right now.

Mike Rogoway profiled the startup in depth today in Portland’s Oregonian. He reports that the company blurs the photos so faces aren’t identifiable, then automatically pushes discounts to users if the software detects the venue is slow at a time its owner wants it not to be. The faces really are unrecognizable and that goes a long way in making this app more useful than creepy.

Unlike mega-discounter Groupon, which sometimes leaves retailers begging for mercy under an avalanche of discounts, What Spot Now turns off discount offers automatically once its cameras detect that a venue has more patrons.

When a venue offers a discount, the user is shown a “scratch-off” redemption code and warned not to scratch it off until they are at the venue itself. The code expires five minutes after being revealed.

“With all of these deal sites going live I think it’s whoever builds a platform that helps the shop owners succeed that is going to win,” fellow Portland mobile entrepreneur Scott Kveton says about What Spot Now. “Getting people into your store or restaurant effectively over time is the key. Groupon is great but it clobbers the business…how do you build something that is a faucet you can turn on or off? What Spot Now has the potential to do just that if they can execute.”

Integrated Facebook Connect points towards a possible future where retailers are able to access all kinds of demographic and interest information about the people who redeem discounts, too. Twitter and push notifications enrich the experience already.

As mobile, real-time, location-based commerce apps go, this is one of the most imaginative and appealing ones I’ve seen yet.

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