Did Google Just Eliminate Loyalty Cards?
People still buy map books (those are maps printed on paper for those of you who don't know,) but their use has faded with the prevalence of GPS systems. Today, Google added a feature that may just eliminate the need for loyalty rewards cards. Starbucks and AMC may still have their own loyalty programs, but for every independent business owner, Google just levelled the playing field.
FourSquare has been the darling of location-based check-ins with its playful leaderboard and badges that unlocked prizes and discounts when users checked-in at their local businesses. It was a novel idea and one that was copied by everybody. Facebook has been offering check-ins for some time now and even allows FourSquare check-ins to work with Facebook Places. And recently, Google joined that world as well. But, check-in apps have always been niche products. Location may well be the trend-of-the-day, following up on an internet that has become full of social connections. But, aside from the techie/hipster crowd, checking-in has yet to be adopted by the mainstream - and with good reason.
Announcing exactly where you are in the world is great if you love your social circle equally. But for most people, it is a little unnerving letting people know your current location. That's not to say it won't catch on. Facebook had a similar privacy-shift to overcome and leveraged its huge user base to encroach the privacy line one step at a time. Peer pressure is a great way to change behaviour.
Enter Google's new Offers section in Google Latitude. Latitude is inherently more private in the way location is shared. You only share your location with the people you choose from your phonebook which is a much smaller social graph to navigate. And Google Offers brings the mainstream a reason to check-in. Loyalty rewards. Instead of being rewarded with random badges and offers as FourSquare does, Google Offers shows you a breakdown of reward levels and each time you check in you can see how much further you have to go. It's such a simple differentiator from the way check-ins and offers work now, but it's potentially a huge development for Google.
They already have a huge database of small businesses that use Google Places so that they can be found when people search the web. Expanding their offerings to include loyalty rewards, without adding the inconvenience of carrying around yet another card is very appealing.
Perhaps I'm seeing something where nothing exists, but I signed up for FourSquare shortly after it launched and have yet to really participate in that community. I just have never felt its relevance outside of the tech world. With Google Offers, I am already clambering for it to arrive in my area so I can rack up rewards at all my favourite local spots.