Ever since local/mobile firm Foursquare released the latest version of its consumer application a month or so ago, the company has been promising a revamp on the merchant side. There have also been rumblings of a new product to allow advertisers to promote their specials more aggressively throughout the app.
Well, that’s all now coming this week — at least in part — with the introduction of “Local Updates” and an all-new merchant center interface. All of Foursquare’s merchant tools thus far — including the new Local Updates — are free.
“This launch is really about, for the first time, giving a voice to businesses so they can reach their most loyal customers within Foursquare,” said Noah Weiss, the product manager in charge of merchant-facing tools at Foursquare. Previously, users have only been able to see Specials on a business’ profile or via a bright orange icon when they browse for businesses in the Explore tab.
“Local Updates” are Foursquare’s answer to Facebook’s “Promoted Posts” or Twitter’s “Promoted Tweets.” In the Foursquare execution, these bits of content authored by merchants appear in the “Friends” tab of the application, and merchants can only target loyal customers — who have checked in “regularly” at a location — while they are physically in proximity to the retail location. Users won’t receive push notifications about Local Updates.
A Local Update consists of text and up to three photos or an attached “special.” Foursquare determines what a loyal customer is, based on how many times they have checked into a business, and how recently that check-in activity has occurred. The user also needs to be close to the retail location, and the definition of “close” will differ depending on the locale. In a tightly-packed city like New York, close may be within a mile. In a more suburban area, Weiss says, people may be willing to go as far as 10 miles for a special event or special.
Though, initially, the Local Updates targeting will be based on past check-in activity, users will have the option of opting out of receiving updates from merchants one-by-one, so they can fine tune who they are receiving messages from. The company hopes this will dampen any outrage about users receiving commercial messages in a place where they are accustomed to hearing from friends.
“We want to give users transparency and control,” said Weiss.
As for the paid services rumored to be coming from Foursquare, Weiss would only say that all of the free merchant services could be seen as foundations for new products that will be introduced in coming months. For example, currently, Local Updates only go to loyal customers, but Weiss said new products would be designed to help merchants acquire new customers.
The Local Updates will begin rolling out to users over the rest of the week, and the new merchant interface will be rolling out during the same time period.
P.S. Foursquare has posted on its blog about the new merchant center and Local Updates, and says they are now live for merchants.