Some retailers speak with increased confidence about how they use Facebook and Twitter to promote their brand and activities. It's almost as if it's become an established — even mature —tool.
Well, that's good news, but marketers shouldn't get too comfortable because the game continues to evolve. Other sites that make use of social networking are gaining traction with Web and mobile models that actively court business partnerships. Retailers at least need to be aware of these opportunities.
Two such players are Foursquare and Groupon, which have different concepts but are similar in their young consumer clientele, outreach to businesses, and, notably, their early successes in attracting some food retailers.
Foursquare (http://foursquare.com) has drawn retailers including certain locations of Whole Foods Market and PCC Natural Markets. The mobile service encourages users to frequent local establishments, such as restaurants or bars, and to use the service's GPS to record their locations. It incorporates a game aspect with awards of virtual badges and points for various accomplishments. This qualifies for bragging rights with user friends, and alerts everyone to great local establishments. Businesses tie in by paying Foursquare for customized virtual badges, and by offering shoppers real rewards for frequent visits recorded by the service. Got it? For example, locations of PCC, based in Seattle, are offering a free Mighty-O doughnut to users on every third visit. Customers are alerted on cell phones by Foursquare when they earn a reward, and can show the alert in-store as proof. This might seem to merely duplicate an existing store loyalty program, but it differentiates by being fun and interactive, according to Ricardo Rabago, the retailer's social media specialist.
Meanwhile, Groupon (http://www.groupon.com) now operates in some 45 U.S. markets by promoting a deal of the day in each one — such as discounts on spas, restaurants, cooking classes or other services. Its outreaches to businesses have attracted food retailers including August Grocery, an independent based in Chicago, and online grocer FreshDirect. Groupon offers big discounts on local products and services and requires that a minimum number of users take the offer, explained Mark Desky, vice president, marketing. It takes a cut of transactions and encourages participants to share offers with friends and contacts, including via sites like Facebook.
August Grocery's deal last month offered consumers $25 worth of fresh groceries for a $12 fee. Close to 3,000 people purchased the deal, with about 300 cashing in during the first week.
Presumably there are opportunities here for retailers both for storewide promotions and special events, let's say a cooking class that sends you home with the ingredients. The great unknown for retailers is how many customers will be repeats.
Both Foursquare and Groupon are models worth exploring. Their passion for localities seems to play into the local marketing push of food retailers. Their reaching out to business is a welcome gesture that may signal a next phase of social networking.
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