Predictions Roundup: Location Consolidation and the Rise of BOPIS

Tis the season for annual predictions. As we promised in our monthly theme for January, we at Street Fight are projecting outcomes in local commerce, media, and advertising for 2021. Of course, this annual ritual has a vastly different spin this year, given the uncertain state of the world. But we’re pushing forward anyway.

Predictions we’ve published so far included our own, as well as those of contributors. Lying somewhere between those two endpoints is our latest exercise. We’ve personally reached out to some of the top minds in local commerce, media, and tech and asked them to lend some insights about what they see coming in 2021.

The result was a wide array of predictions and even some similar responses. In fact, the reception was so strong that we decided to break the list into two parts. Here’s what we were able to gather from the community, in no particular order. Stay tuned next week for Part II.

Dan Hight, VP, Data Partnerships, NextNav

There will be more consolidation in the location space, as privacy will continue to put pressure on the ecosystem. However, I predict there will be a prophylactic divestiture from either Amazon or Google, or both, in 2021. As big tech has garnered the attention of the Department of Justice and multiple state attorneys general there is more pressure than ever before. These companies have the opportunity to control their outcome rather than lengthy litigation (which they can do), regulation, or forced break-up. The one that makes the most sense is Amazon proactively spinning AWS, which would easily be a top-ranked valued company. Google spinning its Cloud business would likely not have the same effect on turning down the heat, as their ad business is the focus.

The others that I did not mention are Facebook, which because of the control of the company, is not likely to proactively divest Instgram and/or Whatsapp, or Apple, which is more likely to face regulation of its App Store rather than being broken up. Apple, to its credit, has already taken steps by reducing the App Store fees it takes from smaller developers to 15 percent. Controlling one’s own destiny in the wake of clear signals that “Winter is Coming” is likely to be strategy some in big tech will take this year.

Kaci Cramer, Strategic Account Manager, Brandify

The importance of curbside/BOPIS will prevail in 2021, even once the pandemic has slowed. Customers have become accustomed to this as an available service, so if your business hasn’t developed a solution, and you’ve been waiting for the “storm” (pandemic) to pass, you’re late to the game, and will be even further behind in 2021.

Accurate in-store inventory data will also continue to grow in importance in 2021. With the rising demand for BOPIS sales, customers expect you to provide them with accurate updates of what you have in store at their time of purchase. This personalization can create new demand for store-specific pages that list products available in stores, in real-time… further bridging the gap between in-store and online.

We also expect GMB listings to expand and act more as a single source of truth. GMB listings have gradually broadened functionality and features over the years, but in 2020 there was a level of demand that amplified the rate of change. Attributes, special hours, services, and menus all showcased just how vital they can be to the customer wanting their information accurately and with fewer clicks. Google will continue to expand GMB to act as a one-stop-shop for the customer, enabling deeper integrations to connect with your business and serve the customer. We may see greater use of booking and ordering as well as a broadened need for local inventory accuracy. Photos or even review text may become shoppable or clickable as connections are deepened between the listings and your business information.

David Mihm, Local SEO Thought Leader and Founder, Tidings

Digital marketing begins to re-humanize in 2021: The digital marketing industry has seen an understandable, and in many ways positive, trend toward automation over the past several years. That trend will continue in areas where automation either reduces inherent product complexity (Google Smart Campaigns) or eliminates mundane, repetitive tasks (Zapier).

But the downside of “marketing automation” has been that as more and more companies have adopted it, whether via email, phone, SMS, or ad placements, the recipients of that automation (i.e. consumers) have become inundated with messages across every channel. Each marginal message makes it less likely that any other automated message will break through the noise. (Even when it comes to automation that’s customer-initiated, I’ve yet to see a chatbot that actually provides a comparably good consumer experience as chatting directly with a human being.)

The rise of the account-based marketing concept in the B2B world hints at the pendulum swing that’s coming, but not even that concept goes far enough. The consumer expectation is still for a 1:1 interaction. In the world of local search, we’ve already seen this expectation surface in the kinds of questions asked by consumers in Google My Business Q&A and review responses for several years. Google’s opening up and promotion of Messaging on GMB profiles in the middle of 2020 has the potential to further increase the gap between consumer expectation and business delivery — I expect consumer adoption of GMB Messaging to explode in 2021.

These interactions are harder to scale, and while I see a place for AI-assisted interactions, a fully automated mindset will continue to fall flat. Companies that truly understand what their customers are looking for, and truly personalize their customer outreach — beyond just marketing automation variables and frustrating chatbots — will stand out from the crowd.

Mike Boland, Industry Analyst 

I expect more location intelligence sector consolidation this year. This has already gotten started in 2020, considering Foursquare’s merger with Factual, and smaller deals like X-Mode’s acquisition of Location Sciences and Near’s recent Teemo acquisition.

One thing driving this consolidation is the need to pool resources. Data sources are getting constrained by public (legislation) and private measures (platform crackdowns), so location-data players have to gain back network effect. That can be accomplished to some degree by combining data sources. This principle was at play when Foursquare acquired Placed and Factual.

Speaking of Foursquare, it’s the other consolidation driver. As it continues to make a power play for location-intelligence scale, it will drive others to follow suit to compete. Though success in location intelligence relies on strong technology, it’s also all about network size and large samples.

So expect to see a location-intelligence shakeout in 2021. That will include some companies that don’t make it, and some that get acquired (possibly at a discount). Foursquare will continue to be the 800-pound gorilla based on its recent M&A activity and good underlying location-intelligence chops.

Outgoing Foursquare CEO David Shim told me there aren’t other acquisitions planned, but we think that could change. Meanwhile, keep an eye on other industry consolidation. Location intelligence will continue to be central to mobile advertising, though the landscape may begin to look a lot different.

Stay tuned for more next week.

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