Merchants who want to connect with customers based on location will be cheered to hear about the new details in the Location-Based Services report from the Pew Research Center. Consumers are growing onlinesmarphonemore comfortable with smartphone location features, especially those who use the devices to navigate. People of all ages are revealing their locations, some automatically, through social media. At the same time, fewer are taking the time to use check-in location services. These trends all have implications for marketers.

Not long ago, services like Foursquare were working hard to get merchants to offer promotions to consumers who ‘checked-in’ at their locations. Just last year, up to 18% of smartphone users were participating in these deals. This year, the number is down to 12%. All of the checking-in for consumers and program management for merchants appears to take too much time. Foursquare has shifted its approach and is working with merchants to help them manage what looks like a traditional loyalty program with a social twist.

At the same time, more smartphone users, 74%, turn to their devices for navigation assistance. Consumers who use smartphones in this way tend to be under age 50 and college-educated. Hispanics and Whites use this feature more than Blacks.

Consumers are also increasingly willing to set up their social sites to tag their current location automatically. Between 2011 and this year, the number of consumers doing so rose from 14% to 30%. Interestingly, only 16% of teens use this feature and analysts suspect teens are restricting this kind of information because of safety fears.

Consumers who use geo-social services are more likely to be ages 18 to 29 and to be Hispanic. Favorite geo-social services include:

  • Facebook 39%
  • Foursquare 18%
  • Google Plus 14%

As more consumers use smartphones and social media together, local merchants have an opportunity to connect directly with customers through apps  and mobile marketing.  Merchants may decide to partner with national companies like Yelp or Foursquare. Or, they may also use a local media company or their own resources to roll out promotions that will allow them to connect with fans who are in the neighborhood.

Marketers should move cautiously on this front though as at least 30% of consumers disable their smartphone location feature from time to time.

Have you been using geo-social data to connect with customers in the local market?