Why a Korean Juggernaut Bought Mobile Commerce Startup Shopkick

At first glance, shopkick might not seem like much—another deals platform that rewards you  for your shopping behavior. But closer scrutiny reveals one of the most powerful mobile commerce platforms around: a geotargeting mecca.

At its core, shopkick provides marketers the opportunity to target and retarget consumers not only based on what they’re interested in, but based on where they physically are located.

This has been the El Dorado of mobile commerce ever since Steve Jobs revealed the first iPhone; marketers have been looking for an app that could tie together the online and offline space, bringing in foot traffic to physical shops by reaching out to customers on their phones.

Many platforms have tried to offer this before, most notably Google Maps and Yelp. But shopkick is different.

Users download and use the app because they want to be marketed to; that’s its reason to exist. Also, users are incentivized to use it more and more—the more they use, the more they can earn in the form of gift cards.

The app has received over 77,000 ratings in Apple’s app store, which partly explains why a Korean company has bought it for $200 million.

The buyer is SK Planet, an arm of SK Telecom, one of the largest companies in South Korea that provides a number of internet, cell phone, and data services with about half of the market.

The company has tried—and failed—to make a presence in the U.S. market in the past, but its acquisition of shopkick suggests that it’s working on developing the mcommerce infrastructure that unites online and offline commerce.

SK will have huge competition, but shopkick is a great, and cheap, entry point. The company might end up selling the platform, but only after it’s learned how shopkick has built and retained a large and loyal following that is exactly what advertisers want: active, engaged, and eager to spend money.

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