Long Reads Foursquare Technology

How Foursquare is quietly positioning itself as a location data powerhouse


By Lisa Lacy, n/a

March 20, 2017 | 7 min read

When you think of Foursquare, you may think of check-ins, swarms or even founder Dennis Crowley.

Foursquare has added a foot traffic dashboard to its location intelligence arsenal.

Foursquare has added a foot traffic dashboard to its location intelligence arsenal.

However, since it launched in 2009, Foursquare has repositioned itself as less of a social platform and more of a location intelligence company as it seeks to bridge on- and offline consumer behavior and is increasingly considered a source of alternate data about where consumers go in the real world.

To wit: Foursquare announced it is launching Foursquare Analytics, a dashboard that analyzes anonymized and aggregated foot traffic trends to physical brand locations.

In a blog post, CEO Jeff Glueck said this allows brands to understand how their companies – and the categories they are in – are performing based on measurable, real-world visits.

This, in turn, provides metrics that have previously been difficult to identify, such as loyalty, frequency of visits by group and sources of acquisition or loss, which Foursquare said means analysts can identify differences between loyalists and other shoppers, for example.

“It’s a dashboard for insights on chain-level foot traffic performance that can be easily compared to a competitive set and to the broader industry, providing unprecedented metrics that measure loyalty, reveal demographic insights and uncover sources of acquisition and loss,” Glueck wrote in the post. “It allows analysts to have a precise understanding of changing store visit patterns and share of visits from a competitive set.”

Further, Foursquare said traditional web analytics tools like Google Analytics don’t enable out-of-the-box analysis of foot traffic for a given brand, its competitors and the broader category. What’s more, Foursquare Analytics doesn’t require in-store hardware or setting up geofences. It also means retailers don’t have to rely on consumer recall in surveys, which can take months to reveal insights, the platform added.

Initial Foursquare Analytics partners include TGI Friday's, H&M, Equinox, Taco Bell and Lowe's.

In an email, Glueck pointed to US Census figures, which he said show 92% of consumer spending takes place in the real world. This, in turn, puts pressure on brick and mortar and omnichannel businesses to behave more like digital players, with personalized and timely offers, measurement of marketing dollars and smart merchandising. But the real world does not have a lot of the things that made digital work, like cookies, he noted.

“I was the CMO of Travelocity and spent $1bn in marketing and could measure it because we had the cookie and could measure ads to conversion, but for Subway with 20,000 locations or for a Starbucks or a Chipotle or an Apple, where business happens in physical locations, it’s about how to connect the digital and physical world with what we’re building with location intelligence,” Glueck said in an interview earlier this year.

Foursquare’s location intelligence portfolio also includes: Attribution, which can tell marketers what ads are driving incremental visits; and Pilgrim SDK, the software developer kit that launched March 1 and allows developers to embed Foursquare’s passive location awareness into apps for improved engagement and analytics.

“The launch of Pilgrim SDK marks a huge step forward for Foursquare and executes on a vision that Dennis Crowley has worked toward for years,” Glueck wrote in an email. “Foursquare powers the location layer of the Internet (our API is used by Twitter, Snap, Apple and 100,000 other developers) and now our proprietary Pilgrim technology will power contextually aware apps...our vision and plan is to continue the rate of innovation and further showcase how, in the future, location intelligence will be a central tenant of every engaging mobile experience, smart app and strategic business decision in retail, QSR, health, travel, finance and beyond.”

Foursquare has about 50m global users each month, Glueck said.

“We have seen over 10bn check-ins over the last seven years…[and we set out to] build a sensor map of over 100m places in the world, which is a technology we call Pilgrim, which is now is so good…if your phone is in your purse, we can detect whether you’re walking in or out of 100m businesses without your phone leaving your purse,” he added. “The places you go is perhaps the best indicator of who you are. If I pin a Ferrari [on Pinterest], I’m probably not in the market, but if I spend a lot of time at dealerships [I am], so there are real…deep insights into consumers. The mom who picks up her kids and goes to yoga and Whole Foods…is a different person than the one who goes to college football games, gun shows and Dick’s Sporting Goods, so the other thing we’ve been able to do is open up insights about real world movement culturally and in business terms for the 92% of economic transactions that still happen in physical locations.”

What’s more, Glueck said the market is moving toward technology that’s contextually aware – and Foursquare wants to be the engine that helps companies build smarter AI, AR, location-based games and ads and more personalized services.

“We may not [have] been a pioneer. We’re not one of the giants, but there’s all sorts of interesting things being built, particularly for companies that want to build unique mobile or AI or AR experiences that aren’t Facebook or Google and want to build something more creative. I think we’ll be the engine behind that,” Glueck said. “Your voice assistant should know you love soup dumplings or independent coffee shops or funky movie theaters or bourbon and should give answers for you or where you go. It should also understand [whether you like] TJ Maxx and Marshall’s or Target or Prada. Those are very different people. You shouldn’t have to explain that…we want to power a lot of that [and be] the contextual engine to understand where you’re standing now – is it the 100th time or are you in a new neighborhood in Barcelona, [so you should know] you are 100 feet from the best crab cangrejo tapas in the world and you cannot miss this spot. [We should] know it’s a new spot for you versus when we want to stay out of the way because it’s your work location and so I think that’s a lot of where we see we want to be the contextual engine of making great guides to real world. It goes back to providing value.”

Long Reads Foursquare Technology

More from Long Reads

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +