Could Foursquare’s Robust Set of Retailer-Friendly Data Renew Acquisition Interest?

Marketing-cloud suitors may come calling

The digerati has, at times, been snarky toward Foursquare (people still use Foursquare?), but the 7-year-old company has seemingly ignored the snide social media commentary and kept its nose to the grindstone. More specifically, it pivoted from only being a consumer-facing mobile app about 20 months ago to also offering marketers a steady stream of its location data. 

Foursquare took another step in that direction today, partnering with Nielsen to map digital ads in a way that tracks how effective they are at driving in-store visits and sales. The collaboration will allow Nielsen to monitor Foursquare's foot traffic data to, in theory, better understand what consumers pay attention to and purchase. The company last month also inked a deal with Snapchat, which will use Foursquare's location data to target retail ads based on location. Additionally, Foursquare has expressed interest in measuring foot traffic from television ads someday.

In 2010, Facebook reportedly offered to buy Foursquare, and Yahoo supposedly kicked the tires during spring of last year. Now that the company has evolved into a major mobile data player in the business-to-business realm, could it become an acquisition target once again? Perhaps for a marketing-cloud giant such as Adobe, IBM, Oracle or Salesforce that wants to bolster the location data it offers retail clients?

"I'd imagine Foursquare would be open to such overtures if the price was right," said Anand Sanwal, CEO of tech research firm CB Insights. "Their data and some of the success they've had making predictions could be interesting to an IBM, Oracle or Nielsen. That said, the value of their data hinges on the continued use of their app, and so it's not a straightforward data play. You have to believe in the value of the data—statistically relevant—and their ability to continue to get this data via their consumer-focused app. They're complementary but very different businesses."

To part of Sanwal's point, Foursquare gets its data from 55 million monthly users, many of which overlap with its sister app, Swarm. Compared to some white-hot mobile startups, the apps' adoption rates have been relatively low; for instance, a Nielsen report said that Foursquare had 10.4 million users in July of 2012. (For comparison, after launching on July 6, mobile app game Pokemon Go had more than 20 million daily users within a few weeks.) A notable growth spurt from Foursquare/Swarm would likely inspire more cloud-based suitors to want to call all of that data their own. 

Brian Wieser, Pivotal Research analyst, added that "if [Foursquare] decided they needed to sell themselves to return capital to their investors and a nine-figure price were on offer, I don't know how likely they would be to accept it [versus] looking for a new approach or building on existing approaches to grow the company."

According to The New York Times in January, when Foursquare raised $45 million in funding, the New York tech player's valuation was between $300 million and $400 million. The company declined comment about acquisition possibilities. 

At any rate, in a blog post on Monday detailing the new Nielsen partnership, Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck said it will help retailers gauge what prompts users to visit a store and how campaigns actually led to conversions offline. "Marketers will be able to better understand their target audience by seeing where they are failing to entice consumers and where they are hitting the mark," Glueck stated.

The announcement is a follow-up to Attribution by Foursquare, a product the company debuted in February that leans on a panel of 1.3 million users. The system offers a dashboard that lets brands observe and utilize anonymized consumer data in real time. (Foursquare already observes phone activity in and out of 100 million locations around the world through check-ins and background location tracking.) 

Foursquare isn't the only company working to improve attribution modeling. Since 2014, Google has been tracking how online ads drive in-store traffic, and this summer Facebook announced its own similar updates.

Yet, Foursquare may have foot traffic data—thanks to billions of voluntary check-ins—that appeals more greatly to merchants since the stats should be highly accurate while also implying a degree of purchase intent. 

Lastly, here's a sign of financial health: The company has been hiring, as Foursquare told Adweek that it has increased staff by 16 percent year over year to 200 employees.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.
@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.