Make the Most Out of the Check-In Special

Geosocial services (a.k.a. geo-location services) like Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR and others have introduced a new way for users to share their shopping preferences with friends via the check-in (the action of sharing that you are at a particular location with your social connections through a mobile device and/or status update).

One of the most straightforward tactics marketers have to leverage a platform like Foursquare is delivering a check-in special, a coupon/ deal/ perk obtained by checking-in. Now, this can be a move that doesn’t make sense because, after all, why would you want to deliver a coupon to someone who is already in your store and about to make a purchase? You wouldn’t.

It’s benefit is about behavior.

Geosocial is an emerging technology, but it is taking hold. With 10 million users reaching 1 billion check-ins after only being at 100 million check-ins 14 months ago, Foursquare, the check-in leader, is growing. In addition, the U.S. has 80 million smartphone users, 20 percent of which have used check-in services. It’s not going away anytime soon.

Check-in deals shouldn’t be used to reinforce the same behavior. They should be used to influence consumer behavior to achieve business objectives. For example:

  • Encouraging a consumer from around the corner who’s never been in your store to come in, check-in for the first time and receive a special discount to meet the objective of customer acquisition.
  • Increasing the amount purchased by offering a deal that says if you spend over a certain threshold, you get a certain amount off or a free gift.
  • Encourage loyalty by offering a deal/ perk to someone who checks-in a certain number of times to encourage them to come back.
  • Reward sharing by offering a deal or perk when someone checks-in with a certain number of friends, so they can’t unlock the deal by themselves.

Identify objectives before the Special.

There’s no point in creating a check-in special to reward someone to do what they were going to do in the first place, but there are plenty of reasons for businesses to align on their business objectives, whether those objectives are customer acquisition, increase “cart-size” or reward returning customers, first. Then they can align on how those objectives can be achieved using check-in specials. Consumers like deals and perks. Use their desire to deliver an experience that resonates with them and deliver on your business objectives at the same time.

The Day Places Died... Kind Of

Facebook unveiled some major privacy changes (which we’ll discuss in depth on Episode 37 of the podcast) this week, but perhaps the biggest news for marketers was Facebook’s plans for Places, the geo-location feature that allows users to check into locations they’re visiting and share with their Facebook Friends. Facebook announced that the feature is to be replaced with the ability to add your location through a status update. No more checking-in.

Yes, tagging one’s location to a status update is still possible, but the dedicated button to check-in is gone. Without that little prompt to remind users, it’s doubtful they’ll share their location now. It’s difficult to assess exactly why Facebook has made this move, but one can likely assume that Places just didn’t click.

Places came about as a response to the rising popularity of other check-in services like Foursquare and Gowalla. It may be the case that consumers didn’t quit using those services to use Places. Instead, they stuck with what they were used to primarily because Facebook didn’t add anything new to the equation. Places was simply check-ins on Facebook. It lacked the flair, personality and sense of personal achievement that comes with other geo-location services. Plus, with Foursquare users can already share their locations with their Facebook friends (as well as Twitter). Why would someone switch over?

What this Means for Competitors

Facebook isn’t getting rid of Places exactly, but its refocus takes it largely out of competition with other services. This is pretty big news for competitors, particularly Foursquare, the most popular geo-location service. Facebook is the social behemoth, and it’s incorporated features of other services in the past to their detriment. In facet, many predicted the death of Foursquare when Places was announced.

It looks like Foursquare is sitting pretty. They’ve unrolled a slew of new features, and marketers will likely begin to focus in on them for geo-location opportunities versus placing an emphasis on Places as seen previously.

Consumer Usage

Geo-location services, while relatively new social behavior, are gaining traction, particularly with the penetration of smart phones. More consumers are becoming aware of the apps (56% of smart phone users) and 39% use one or more location based application. This is something marketers should be looking at.

How to React

Facebook will probably be back with a bigger location play in the future, but at the moment it looks to be taking a backseat (no matter how it tries to spin its actions). That doesn’t mean marketers shouldn’t be taking action. At the very least, everyone should be considering what these services mean for their businesses and how they can be leveraged or why they shouldn’t be leveraged.

Here are some considerations to get started:

  • Determine whether or not geo-location makes sense for your brand. Why or why not?
  • If yes, align on how geo-location can be leveraged by your business.
  • Stake your claim. Facebook or Foursquare, there’s nothing wrong with claiming your businesses locations on these platforms. You may not use them for anything at the moment, but you might as well claim them now.
  • If you do decide to place an emphasis on geo-location, incorporate rewards (monetary and non-monetary), such as deals, tips and information. Make consumers want to check-in.
  • Measure the data on the backend. Look at when, where and who is checking into your business location(s), learn from it and take action.

Checking-In to Retail

Early last year a new consumer behavior began to gain traction and take the social space by storm as marketers took notice of customers “checking in” when visiting their businesses. Geosocial services like Foursquare, Facebook Places, Gowalla, Loopt, BriteKite, Yelp and others found their way onto GPS-enabled devices, like smartphones, giving users the ability to share their current locations with their individual social graphs.

Geosocial services have come onto the scene with a lot of hype, but they still have some growing to do in terms of adoption. A Microsoft survey found that 24% of surveyed respondents claim to have used geosocial services (about 40 million) and 30% claim to be familiar with them, which means there’s room for them to grow, especially considering Nielsen’s prediction that smartphone penetration will exceed 50% by the end of this year.

Even though the check-in hasn’t reached mainstream behavior, marketers, particularly retailers, can’t overlook its potential and value to reach customers who are at their front doors or even within their stores.

The Value to the Consumer

Users of geosocial services say connecting with people, discovering locations enjoyed by others and gaining insight into where and when they travel as the top three reasons they use them. Despite popular belief, receiving deals and discounts comes in fourth.

Consumers find value in geosocial services when they connect with others and crowdsource opinions to make decisions. The desire to build, maintain and nurture relationships is what keeps consumers checking in again and again.  

Source: White Horse

The Value to the Business

Geosocial services allow retailers to reach customers who are either within their stores or in the area. In addition, as geosocial services gain popularity, they can drive valuable insights as dashboards like Foursquare’s allow businesses to identify peak times for store visitors, who the most frequent visitors are and general visitor demographics.

Check-ins can also affect behavior in a couple ways. First, users can share their location with their social graphs, potentially influencing their connections to consider visiting a business. Second, rewards can be leveraged to reinforce or change customer behavior.

Meeting in the Middle

Geosocial services have the potential to serve business’ objectives, but marketers must also prove why checking-in is worthwhile for their customers by taking a two-fold approach.

  1. Prioritize and Galvanize:
    • Identify the platforms where the business’ core audience is playing, whether that’s Foursquare, Facebook Places or something else, and claim the venues that are yours.
    • Encourage customers to check-in with a call-to-action, such as a decal on the front door, and ask them to share that check-in across their social graphs.
    • Leverage the data from check-ins to inform your business. For example, if you are running a bar, and you notice check-ins decline at 1:00 am, consider starting a 1:30 am happy hour.
  2. Connect and Offer Incentive
    • The primary reason people use geosocial services is to connect with others, so build a community by encouraging users to share their locations socially and asking customers to add multimedia to your venue like photos, tips and stories.
    • Provide digital “swag” like badges and recognition (i.e., mentioning them on Twitter) to encourage certain behaviors that achieve business objectives, such as checking-in with a friend who’s never been to the store before.
    • Use deals to add icing to the cake by rewarding groups of friends, large numbers of people, new customers and loyalty.

Check Out the Check-In

Geosocial services are new, and for some consumers, privacy is a concern, the benefits of checking in aren’t clear and the fulfillment from geosocial services is found in other channels, which slows down adoption. Still, geosocial services are seeing growth, and it doesn’t look like checking-in is going away. Now, is an opportune time for retailers to take a look, test, learn and grow with one of the latest developments in social media.