Foursquare. Gowalla. SCVNGR. When it comes to location-based services, games are obviously red-hot, and users (and the press) are eating them up. increasingly, these services are turning on their revenue faucets as they help businesses set up special deals for frequent customers. But do you really need a game in the first place when you’re offering people free sandwiches or discounts on their new jeans?
PlacePop doesn’t think so. We’ve been tracking the company since its debut at our CrunchUp last July — it launched an iPhone app that lets businesses create virtual loyalty cards (think those 10-hole punch cards from Subway, but you use an app on your mobile phone instead of carrying around the actual card). And today the company is launching an extension of the app that makes it a robust platform for deals and customer retention.
With its new business dashboard, PlacePop’s wants to let a small business owner log in and set up a rewards system for customers that’s tied to PlacePop’s mobile applications— in about ten minutes total. The process is simple: first, you claim your business and confirm the address and associated photo (which comes from Google’s database). Next you decide what message you want visitors to see when then check into your venue using PlacePop’s iPhone and Android apps (this can be a basic welcome greeting, or you can highlight whatever deal you have going on).
Finally, you lay out your reward system. You can customize this to take whatever format you want, but by default PlacePop uses a set of color coded virtual cards — you could award a Bronze card for checking into a location 3 times, a Silver card for checking in 5 times, and so on (again, this is all totally customizable). Businesses can decide how they want to reward their customers at each reward level — perhaps you’d give all customers 50% off a soda, but you’d give your Gold customers a drink on the house.
Once you’re set up, you can view information on your customers and their checkins through the new PlacePop web interface — this also includes a feature that will let you send emails to your customers directly (they had to enter their Email address to start using PlacePop’s mobile app).
You’ll notice that through all of this, there isn’t much of a game mechanic. Customers are incentivized to keep coming back to a venue because they want whatever discount or freebie the business is offering — a model that has been around forever using classic coupons and those paper hole-punch cards.
Of course, most people have never used PlacePop’s mobile applications, so how is it ever going to get businesses interested? This is what PlacePop’s success will hinge on — the gaming elements seen on Foursquare and its ilk may seem frivolous, but they’re also a great way to get users engaged initially, even if the novelty of points and badges do eventually wear off. PlacePop knows this and says it has multiple deals in the works that will help it partner with many local businesses — expect to hear more on this front soon.
PlacePop is free to businesses for now, but will be a premium service down the road. The company hasn’t settled on a price point yet, but is considering something along the lines of “a dollar per day” ($30 a month).