BiteHunter Launches In-App Payments for Restaurant Deals

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BiteHunter, the year-old dining deals aggregator pitched as a “Kayak for restaurants,” updated its mobile application this morning with an in-app payment platform and a rehashed user interface (UI). In early March, the company effectively dropped its web offering, focusing its product exclusively on the mobile experience.

With the addition of a photo grid and improved integration of contextual information from review sites like Yelp, the revamped user experience marks a substantial shift in the New York-based company’s approach to mobile deals. The startup has replaced the map-centric, buy-now-around-me use case, which many imagined as the next step for local deals, with a more browsing friendly interface — a move which, CEO Gil Harel told Street Fight, reflects how users consume mobile deals.

“What we’re learning is that instant things are not yet adopted by the consumer,” says Harel about the rumored bust of LivingSocial Instant and GrouponNow. “Consumers are absolutely using location-based services to find deals, but they need more time; they’re not yet ready to open the app and make a decision on the spot to go somewhere a block away.”

One of the big inhibitors for local deals is the marginal discount that merchants tend to offer in location-based environments. Harel attributes the weak inventory in part to the self-serve model, which Groupon and LivingSocial use to generate deals for their local products: “[Self-serve] has its pros and cons. I understand why you need to give control to the merchants, but I also think that Groupon and Living Social need to do a better job of educating the merchants on how to drive business in off-peak hours.”

On the aggregation side, the addition of an in-app payment platform should help iron out the wrinkles in the mobile user experience. With the update, users are asked to enter payment information into their BiteHunter account, and when they go to make a purchase the transaction is automated on the backend. The technology essentially uses a robot to replicate the data entry on the affiliates site that was originally left to the user.

The platform is similar to what Groupon acquiree Kima Labs built with Tapbuy — a product that brought similar payment automation to mobile shopping as a whole. Though the usefulness of an aggregator payment solution remains unclear for Groupon, the addition of in-app purchases for BiteHunter accounts for more than a UI improvement.

By integrating payments, the company now has access to hard point-of-sale data. Harel says the data not only improves internal accounting processes, but opens the doors to adding gamification features as well referral rewards and other incentives.

Though the push to mobile has been quick, it’s unclear whether a vertically-segmented-mobile-only play like BiteHunter is cutting the cake too thin. Email remains a huge driver of deal conversions and by locking deals up in a native app it may be hard to reach enough consumers to scale the business. The company has made efforts to expand its reach through an API that is already used by CBS Local and Local Eats among others, but today’s updates do little to answer this question.

Steven Jacobs is an associate editor at Street Fight.