Foursquare and the coming end of the check-in economy

“They take out a full page ad in the trades to announce their arrival”
Does this bus stop at 82nd Street – Bruce Springsteen

Announcing arrivals used to be a special thing reserved for Kings, Queens, dignitaries, rock stars and airplanes. It was preceded by a certain anticipation that made the arrival all that much sweeter. Sometimes there were trumpets, other times the lights would dim and still other times the doors would swoosh open and the arriving would walk through to greet their waiting loved ones.

Not anymore. The check-in economy is upon us and the sides have switched, the ego has been put before the cart – or something like that.

Announcing MY arrival

Very gradually over the past three or so years a subtle shift has happened that has taken us all down an odd path with considerable impact on our social interactions, our privacy and the economy. People started checking in to locations.

Let’s put this in perspective. When we used to attend an event – say a movie or a concert or even go out for dinner the focus for everyone was the location, the show or the concert. We would arrive, sit, watch, eat, listen and go home. If it was a good show or meal we would tell our friends with the focus still squarely on the event.

We still attend these same events but today 35 million (or so) people announce their arrival, diverting the emphasis from the reason they are there to the act of being there. The event is second to the arrival. Ego trumps reason.

Now give me a reason

What started as a simple game is no longer something that can be taken lightly. Savvy businesses have grabbed on to the concept of the check in and are rewarding everyone willing to play with discounts and coupons. It’s a barter society – give up a little of your privacy and get something in return. Face it, everyone has a privacy price, it is up to the business to find the sweet spot to make you give it up.

For the business, currency comes in many forms other than cash. Social currency – the mention in your Facebook or Twitter stream – could be worth more than the $1 off your latte if you have enough influence or clout. Regency – or customer loyalty – is perhaps the most important form of currency a business can achieve.

MSRP is dead. Make me an offer

Paying full price for anything that doesn’t come from the ground is passé – this isn’t new. What is new is the expectation levied on the value of the check in. It is this expectation that has shifted the power of pricing over to the consumer side as far as we’ve seen it – ever. The consumer is in power.

This isn’t a game anymore

One thing is for sure, the check in economy has changed the way we all think of what we should be paying for pretty much everything. For some of us, we are now also considering what our price is to do business with a company.

The end of the check in

Companies like Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla, Google, Poynt and Yelp! have altered the way we perceive our value as consumers – what are THEY willing to pay ME in order to attract my business. If the offer isn’t worthwhile it is on to the next. This way of business is a price-focused retailer’s nightmare – it means they have to start offering something more, something unique, something enticing or risk their product becoming a commodity and finding it’s way to Amazon (see why here: Amazon makes their move).

At some point the novelty will wear off and businesses will automate and integrate this concept as part of their loyalty programs. When the check in is elevated and automated – either through a carrier or credit card company – there is a new game being played. Prices come down permanently and the strong businesses will shift their focus away from the product they offer and more on the customer they are serving.

This is the new regime – the customer-first regime – and all it took was a company like Foursquare to make us realize how far we’ve strayed.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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