Inside Foursquare’s Pivot from Customer App to Location Data Platform

The old mantra of real estate, “location, location, location,” now applies to every business, not just developers, city planners, retailers and restaurants.

Consumers, prompted by the pandemic, have changed all manner of daily behavior, moving fluidly between online and offline channels — and as they do, commerce moves along with them.

Gary Little, CEO and president of Foursquare since the beginning of 2021, told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster that that the insights from the data that moves with consumers — what they are doing, and where they are doing it — can help enterprises fine-tune their interactions in real time, helping them create optimized experiences for customers at the moment of need, wherever they are.

Often, that’s hyper-locally. Many of us are still working from our living rooms or studies, venturing out to local stores and maybe (and that’s a big maybe) going to the office one or two days a week. By and large, we’re spending our time close to home.

Little said that the past two years have proved to be a “fascinating time” to keep the pulse on actual, physical human movement.

“What we are seeing now are different forces coming together,” Little said, “where companies have made a tremendous effort to digitize their infrastructure — and now there’s also a massive need to understand the consumer from across the physical and digital worlds, and how those worlds are colliding.”

Many of the aspects of the collision will prove to be permanent, Little said. Among them is the ability to order goods and services ahead of arrival, in a bid by individuals to limit their time spent in person on brick-and-mortar premises.

It’s become increasingly critical for retail companies to know where their customers are going. In a broad sense, proximity is no longer a barrier to commerce — companies can approach and craft reopening strategies, change their operating hours and even change locations based on data.

Little offered an example of those fundamental changes, discussing the fact that any quick-service restaurant (QSR) now must has to take into account foot traffic, order-ahead features and the continued rise of aggregator delivery platforms such as DoorDash and Uber Eats. These locations have to optimize their physical locations, mulling nuances — one QSR’s location may be well-populated by foot traffic, while another location may see more order flow coming through Uber Eats.

The great digital and omnichannel shift is making inroads into other verticals. The financial services industry has been showing a continued embrace of mobile conduits, where service times are greatly reduced as banks and other institutions use data in real time to engage with consumers.

Little said that geospatial data is also emerging as a consideration, and that it’s as important as payments-related information or fraud prevention — which, incidentally, is enhanced by triangulating trusted mobile devices and cards and location-based information.

Against that backdrop, contactless payments, tethered to digital wallets, cards and loyalty programs, can all be harnessed to create a seamless transaction at Starbucks, for example.

“You can actually improve the entire experience, not just the payment layer of it,” Little said.

Continuing Evolution 

For its own part, Foursquare has evolved from its 2009 genesis, when it launched as an app that let users “check in” to venues and share their whereabouts.

Through subsequent evolutions, the firm took shape as a social media company known for gamifying mobile check-ins and giving recommendations. In 2020, the company merged with data location provider Factual.

Today, it uses its location data to feed application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) to help leading companies create better customer experiences and smarter business outcomes, all based on what its data indicates about how consumers interact with the physical world.

Products such as FSQ/Places API help FinTechs build apps in several ways, as the company’s offerings help firms deliver timely, context-driven app experiences and also provide insights into the consumer journey and spending behaviors.

Little told Webster the platform “crowdsources a set of data over time and do it in a way that protects the privacy of the consumer” through opt-ins.

Foursquare collects and uses location data — at present spanning 100 million point of interest (POIs) venues and touching 500 million devices — to help businesses anticipate evolving consumer trends while they fulfill their service obligations. That data is predictive in nature, he said, and helps client firms understand their core demographics and how consumption behaviors might be changing.

Those insights, in turn, might make them recalibrate how they approach designated market areas (DMAs) in suburbs and cities, how they might fine tune eCommerce offerings and even how they construct supply chains.

As Little told Webster: “Any company that’s built entirely on effectively on top of a ‘map’ requires the type of real-time information and telemetry that we can provide in partnership with companies like Apple Maps and Mapbox and others to create a strong user experience.”

Geospatial information, he said, can improve last-mile services — ensuring that you and your Uber or Lyft driver end up at the right corner at the right time, in sync.

Restaurant delivery becomes better timed to ensure that meals are delivered hot and fresh. Consumer packaged good companies can more firmly cement customer relationships by offering rewards and promotions that are timely, and can even manage their inventory more efficiently.

Looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, Little said Foursquare plans to expand its footprint as a full location-based platform, broadening its international presence and offering up location-based data that developers can run on multiple cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Snowflake.

“There’s an understanding from almost every sector that location data’s key to understanding your consumer, to understanding the best way to build product experiences and how you engage with your customers,” Little said.