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SoLoMo is SO Confusing for Merchants

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SoLoMo is SO Confusing for Merchants
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On Memorial Day, I went for an ocean swim. There were about 20 who turned up to splash around as the South Florida triathlon season gets into full swing. If you live around the ocean, you know how volatile it can be. Some days the water is flat calm, almost glass-like. This past Memorial Day it was choppy due to a blend of wind and  current. During the swim, I felt as though every breath was challenged by wind-driven spray. It was difficult to catch a clean breath and had the potential to trigger claustrophobic feelings, possibly causing me to head back to the beach.

Maybe an indication of how my brain is wired, once I returned to the beach, I thought about how merchants must feel as they sort through all the marketing tools available to them in the digital age. As marketers crow about how merchants need to rush to and embrace “SoLoMo”, merchants are getting that claustrophobic feeling that I had in the water.

I’m not referring just to Mom and Pop local merchants, but to the mid-tier enterprise that is significant in the community. Imagine that you are the owner of a 3 restaurant chain, 2 car dealerships, or 5 dry cleaners. You might even own a franchise operation and want to do something to attract and retain customers while waiting on your corporate office to make decisions.

Almost every day, there seems to be a new entrant on the radar of Social Loyalty. You’ve already tackled Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter but don’t feel that they are doing much for your business. Your Facebook page serves as a corporate billboard, your “official” location on Foursquare doesn’t produce much buzz, and the Twitter account is more a burden to maintain than a useful business tool. You’ve tried both Groupon and Living Social, and are still amortizing those “free first visits” you promised to users while trying to connect the dots on a breakeven analysis.

It’s not easy, is it?

Now, you hear about Belly, LevelUp, and Social Passport. Representatives from each one has visited your General Manager and touted their respective benefits

  • Belly wants to place a consumer-facing iPad at point-of-sale and tells you that Consumer 2.0 will flock to enjoy the promotions that you can design with complete control. They quote CEO Logan LaHive as saying “in active locations, they’re (Belly merchants) surpassing all-time Foursquare check-ins in the first month.”
  • LevelUp tells you that you can get ahead of the curve in “mobile payment technology”, which they define as solutions which actually let consumers use a phone to pay for a good or service in a physical location. They tell you that according to that definition, LevelUp has become the second largest player in the space. They also tell you that this thing called NFC is about to become prevalent as a way to facilitate payment and that will be prepared with a LevelUp terminal.
  • Social Passport tempts you with the ability to drive loads of new customers into your store, each of which will be rewarded according to the power of their social graph. They quote CEO David Merel as saying “merchants are tired of the solutions that simply reward people who are already in the store, and instead want more efficient ways of driving new customers into their stores, while taking advantage of social media influence.” That’s a mouthful, but seems promising since the solution comes with an NFC link and no commissions, fees or minimum discount requirements.

The abundance of choice can freeze even the most aggressive and marketing-minded business owner. In addition to cost and operational concerns, there are reputational risks associated with allowing your business to become a guinea pig for the latest fad. The bottom line is that none of us can definitively say who the winners will be. Some of the core benefits of these new systems could be incorporated as features of established social and location based platforms. And, there are other options to consider which I haven’t mentioned here.

As we’ve seen in the aftermath of the Facebook IPO, there are no sure bets. For merchants of all sizes and types, it’s a good time to watch and to wait.

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