Seamless Rolls Out iPad App, Offers Glimpse into New Strategy

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Delivery and takeout service Seamless is rolling out its first iPad app this morning, rounding off an eight-month rebranding process after food-service giant Aramark sold its majority stake in the company to Spectrum Equity Investors for $50 million in June. The application is a debut of sorts for Seamless’ revamped strategy, which aims to position the service farther up the purchase funnel through more extensive content and “big data” functionality for both consumers and merchants.

Consumers can now order from Seamless’ 8,000 partnering restaurants through a customized tablet app that draws heavily from Twitter’s revamped interface, says Seamless CEO Jonathon Zabusky, who demoed the product for Street Fight recently at the company’s headquarters in New York.

“This was a science-driven approach,” explains Zabusky about the development process. “We didn’t just sit in a room and come up with a bunch of features. Our designers did a lot of research in order to position this device and this use case separate from the web.”

Much of the development focused on creating a more interactive user experience that would push users to engage with the service’s discovery and search features, many of which have been around for a while. Contextual content like reviews and photo’s are far more consumable and interactive than in the company’s other products, a decision, which Zabusky says, is indicative of the tablet’s unique use case.

“To call [the tablet] mobile would be wrong; they’re made to be different and ultimately, the feature sets are going to be different,” Zabusky responded when asked about the difference. “The smartphone and tablet are going to share a lot in terms of feature sets but as far as location-based offerings and structure are concerned, we’re thinking about that squarely in terms of smartphones. What we are thinking about in general is that our web property is no longer leading innovation.”

For Seamless and its main rival GrubHub, mobile adoption has been swift. In January alone, the Chicago-based GrubHub saw a 57% decrease in web visits paired with a slight uptick in unique visitors, according to Quantcast – a sign that while usage remains strong, the bulk of traffic is occurring through mobile apps. Zabusky says that 25% of Seamless’ transactions are processed through mobile, only 18 months after the launch its first mobile app.

In addition to their mobile initiatives, both companies are racing to build out an information layer on top of their commerce products. Less than a week after Grubhub announced the acquisition of DotMenu in September, Seamless announced the acquisition of MenuPages for an undisclosed sum.

“We want to move up in the purchase funnel,” says Zabusky. “We want to get more content; get more relevant for all use cases; and eventually become the most comprehensive and trusted source of local restaurant information.”

As a whole, the local space is nearing the potentially explosive collision of commerce and information companies. With information companies like foursquare looking to loyalty as building block for a revenue model and local commerce companies like Groupon and Seamless searching for ways to add relevance and context to purchases, we’re seeing more and more overlap, and competition, between the two spaces.

The big advantage for local commerce companies – and particularly ones that have been processing transactions in a particular vertical for sometime like Seamless and Grubhub – is that the mass of transaction data which, they have amassed over the years, is finally becoming actionable through “big data” tools like Hadoop and MapReduce.

“On the consumer-side, the question for “big data” is how to establish relevancy,” says Zabusky. “We need to draw patterns between you an people you’re like, not just your friends. Friends are great but being friends doesn’t mean you share the same taste. On the item level, we’re working on allowing people to add more tags at a SKU level so that we can start to build more robust profiles. It’s not going to be a big unveiling. We’re going to let this out pretty slowly.”

Steven Jacobs is an associate editor at Street Fight.