Mobile is the silver lining in Groupon’s fourth-quarter cloud

Shares of Groupon plummeted 27 percent early today after the company posted an unexpected fourth-quarter loss and lowered expectations for first-quarter revenues. Groupon said it expects operating results from the current quarter to essentially break even, and predicted sales to fall between $560 million and $610 million — substantially below Wall Street analysts’ previous forecasts of $650 million.

Overshadowed by those lackluster numbers, though, lies some impressive mobile traction. As Fierce Mobile Content notes, Groupon is currently seeing about 40 percent of its North American transactions occur on mobile devices, an increase of 44 percent from a year ago. That’s an important sign because mobile will play a crucial role as the daily deals segment matures in the next several years. Groupon and other providers will increasingly be able to deliver highly targeted location-based ads and offers, often to users who are looking for a specific product or service in a specific geographic area. And mobile payments will eventually enable those distributors to “close the loop,” which will allow advertisers to determine the ROI of their ad campaigns with tremendous accuracy.

Groupon is in a tremendously competitive space where massive players like Google are vying for the attention of both consumers and retailers. But if it can continue to leverage the power of mobile, it will become a leader in a the promising market of location-based mobile commerce.