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Questions Grow about Check-In Promotions

Hardee's and Carl's Jr. are launching a loyalty reward check in app for their 3,000 locations around the country. Called Happy Star Rewards, the iPhone and Android app lets users get free food and prizes, as well as share their locations with friends through Facebook, Twitter and other networks when they check in (via Ad Age).

In this particular campaign, after four check-ins, customers get to spin "The Wheel of Awesome" for prizes, which is mostly food but also some nice electronics including Blu-ray players and video-game consoles. The app is coming out later this year.

The app is perfect for hardcore customers that know about the campaign, go to one of these fast food restaurants on a regular basis and have the presence of mind to remember to actually check in during a possibly rushed lunch in the middle of a work day or busy weekend. But just how much of the general population can be characterized as such?

One Percent

It’s a question that marketers are beginning to ask - along with others about the value of check-in promotions. Such questions are growing in the wake of recent statistics by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project, which found that only a very small percentage - 4% - of online adults use such services as Foursquare or Gowalla. On any given day, 1% of internet users are using these services.

Of those that do, they are more likely to go online with a mobile phone (7% of adults who use their phones to access the internet also use a location-based service) and are more likely to be a young adult between 18-29 (an age group of which 8% uses location-based services, significantly more than online adults in any other age group).

Not Efficient

Also the basic premise of a check in-based promotion or deal is inefficient for consumers, writes Greg Sterling at Screenwerk. "But there is/was a fundamental problem with Foursquare; I can’t really use it as a planning tool to make decisions," he says - a problem that is also reflected with Facebook Deals.

"I can only see nearby businesses, which may or may not have deals. I can’t search for a business somewhere else that I might visit "later." I can’t see all the offers that may be available (beyond nearby) and then make a determination about which place I want to go to. I may be willing to travel farther depending on the offer. Right now, getting an offer is purely a matter of serendipity tied to where I am at this moment — and I might already be headed to the business with the offer."

Even Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley sees a need to tweak the model. In a presentation at the OpenMobile Summit, he said was intrigued by functionality, typified by MayorMaker, that automatically logs a user in if he or she walks into a store or other location. (via PC Magazine).

This is functionality Best Buy is trying out. Developed by shopkick, a Silicon Valley-based startup, the app is a location-based service that rewards shoppers when they enter the store - without them having to check in.

But for someone walking around, interested in seeing which deals are being offered by local retailers, this is not practical - something Crowley himself has pointed out. A phone with GPS functionality turned on all day can drain the quickly battery.

Promoting an Experience

One answer, Crowley said, was a greater emphasis on promoting experience - as opposed to offering product deals. This could entail following friends who have checked into a business lately, finding out what they may have said about a given place, and similar peer-to-peer communication.

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