The value of check-in services like Foursquare and Gowalla has increasingly come into question since the novelty of becoming the "mayor" of a particular venue has worn off and the pressure to tie check-ins to tangible rewards has grown. Even the Check-In Deals service introduced with Facebook Places has not gained much traction with businesses or consumers.
But new data from comScore today indicates that the check-in is not necessarily dead. The Web research firm found that 16.7 million U.S. mobile users, or 7.1% of the total, used location-based check-in services in March. Among smartphone users only, that proportion increases to 17.6% (12.7 million users). More than three-quarters of people checking in are doing so via smartphones.
The study also found that check-in service users had a propensity for other types of mobile activity, including accessing retail sites and shopping guides. They also demonstrated other characteristics of early adopters as well, such as being more likely than typical smartphone users to own a tablet computer and browse tech news. "Although still in their relative infancy, location-based mobile check-in services are seeing rather impressive adoption among smartphone users," stated Mark Donovan, comScore senior vice president of mobile. "The ability to interact with consumers on this micro-local level through special offers, deals and other incentives provides brands with the real-time opportunity to engage consumers through their mobile device."
Not surprisingly, people using check-in services skew younger, with 18-to-34s accounting for nearly 60% of the total. More specifically, 32.5% are 25 to 34, and 26% are 18 to 24. Usage is split nearly evenly when it comes to gender, at 50.8% female and 49.2% male.
Since most people are checking in through smartphones, which kind of device is most popular? Android phones accounted for the largest share of users -- with 36.6%, followed closely by the iPhone (33.7%) BlackBerry made up 22%, while Microsoft, Palm and Symbian each accounted for less than 5%.
People using check-in services on these devices also tend to be more active than the average smartphone owner in using their handsets to shop and consume media. Nearly one-third visited retail sites, a quarter accessed shopping directories and 46% looked up restaurant information. Beyond that, 40% accessed tech news and 28% owned a media tablet, both much higher than average.
They were also more likely to be exposed to mobile advertising, and almost 40% recalled seeing a Web or in-app ad during the month compared to 27.5% of smartphone users. In that, the comScore study may not have shed much light on the value of a check-in, but it did offer more information about the potential value of check-in users to retailers and marketers.
A study by the PewResearch Center released last November found just 4% of adult U.S. mobile subscribers had used a location-based service, such as Foursquare or Gowalla. That research did not distinguish between smartphone owners and mobile users overall. But the upshot from both studies is that check-in services are still the province of the early-adopter crowd rather than a mainstream mobile activity. As more people switch to smartphones, however, the comScore findings suggest the number of people adopting these services could grow.