Is It Time for SMBs to Check Out of Mobile Check-in Apps?
You know location is vital to real estate, but with each passing day, it’s becoming just as critical to mobile. Look no further than a new Pew Internet & American Life Project survey indicating that 28 percent of all U.S. mobile subscribers rely on their phones to get directions or recommendations based on their current location. Zeroing in on consumers with iPhones, Android devices, and other smartphones (about 40 percent of the total American wireless subscriber demographic), location-based information access almost doubles to 55 percent, Pew reports. But not all location-enabled services have become essential elements of the mobile experience: Only five percent of subscribers use geo-social services like foursquare to check in at nearby destinations.
The check-in concept isn’t a total bust: foursquare now tops 10 million users worldwide, and this summer, the startup completed a new $50 million funding round, boosting its overall value to $600 million. But with check-ins remaining a niche fascination far outside the mainstream consciousness, some high-profile tech firms are beginning to overhaul or even shut down their competing efforts. In August, Facebook eliminated its mobile-only Places check-in feature—users who wish to share their current whereabouts can now add their city-level location or tag a specific site in any Facebook post. And earlier this month, Gowalla—once touted as foursquare’s most serious rival—re-imagined its platform from the ground up, minimizing check-ins and shifting its focus to Lonely Planet-like mobile social guide services encompassing user reviews and expert travel insights.
Where does that leave the restaurants, bars, and retailers allocating their mobile marketing resources toward check-in specials and promotions? It’s time for them to check out, too. With so many other mobile marketing and social media channels available to firms who wish to reach on-the-go consumers, why dedicate time, effort and budgets to services with such limited appeal? Small businesses can’t spread themselves too thin—they must decide which mobile solutions are best equipped to boost their visibility and drive customer traffic, and check-in services don’t measure up.
Of course, check-in services do work for select merchants, which poses a devil’s advocate question: Could platforms like foursquare flourish if more participating restaurants and stores offered bigger, better, and more desirable promotions? Giving a free appetizer to patrons who check in at your bar is a nice gesture, but it’s not enough to guarantee repeat business, and it certainly isn’t enough for your deal to go viral. That’s the problem with foursquare: The majority of mobile subscribers simply don’t see the value in checking in. The only way to reverse the trend is to offer specials so compelling that consumers feel they’re missing out by not taking advantage of the opportunity. It won’t happen overnight, so the average small business should still steer clear for now. But if foursquare and its rivals can build out their platforms with the introduction of stickier services and more compelling features—and if they can collaborate with their deeper-pocketed merchant partners to present more relevant rewards—SMBs may then want to get off the sidelines and jump into the game.
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