Is your ‘Location Services’ switched on right now?

App users have a love/hate relationship — or, rather love/wariness/indifference relationship to be exact —to their smartphones’ location services, with 83 percent saying that location is “crucial” to their mobile experiences, while more than half of weather and navigation app users don’t keep their devices’ geo signals turned, according to a study commissioned by Skyhook Wireless.

The geo-data specialist’s study proposes to determine the reasons why people turn location services on or off, and to understand why many smartphone users avoid sharing their location data.

Location Disconnect

The study also highlighted a significant opportunity for publishers and developers to add value to their apps by giving users incentives and rewards for employing their location services as a utility.

Based on a survey conducted by Research Now between July 9 and July 15, 2015 of 1,000 mobile app users, the study found that 47 percent of those who use navigation apps and one-third of weather app users do not have location services on regularly— despite the fact that these tools are pretty useless without the ability to pinpoint a user’s location.

Meanwhile, users of social networking, photo and video apps, also fail to turn on location services with location usage for these reported at 38 percent, 18 percent, and 16 percent respectively.

“None of these numbers are particularly surprising, because we leave it up to the user to make the decision,” says Mike Schneider, Skyhook’s VP of Marketing. “Instead of trying to explain to them why they would want to make the decision, we just leave it up to them. Nobody’s really educated app publishers on the value of location services beyond tagging content. The data-driven design era is just beginning, and the growth of programmatic advertising — the greater use of automated marketing tools — could change things.”

As an example of some of the ways retailers are employing automation to help spur consumers’ use of location services, Schneider points to the offering of “contextual experiences” within apps. Schneider cited apps from brands like Home Depot and Sephora, which have a “store mode” that present “special experiences” inside and outside an outlet. But those features are far from pervasive and are largely in the experimental stage.

The main issue is that using location for anything but the most obvious features — such as searching for a place on a smartphone map app or checking the weather — doesn’t have same resonance when it comes to interacting with a store. Plus, there are the privacy issues involved when it comes to sharing one’s location data. And while smartphone batteries continue to improve, most people know that keeping their location services on means a greater drain on their device’s power.

In the end, Schneider notes that app developers, publishers, and marketers need to give consumers a clear, desirable reward for sharing their location.

To illustrate his point, Schneider compares the fact that consumers are very likely to use location when they access a weather app, while only 16 percent of consumers have the geo function switched on for when they open a news app.

“It’s natural for people have higher propensity to turn on location for weather, because they think, ‘It’s going to give me the content based on the weather,’ but people tend not to feel as much when it comes to reading a news app,” Schneider says. “People are not thinking about localized content and no one’s prompting readers to get a better experience by turning on their geo.”

Skyhook’s Mike Schneider

Directing Consumers To Location

In exchange for disclosing their location, consumers require concrete benefits from their apps, with accuracy being a top demand for more than half of all app users. Also, 34 percent of smartphone users expect personalized communications.

Among the study’s other findings

  • 25 percent keep location services on in order to get offers and notifications
  • Nearly half of smartphone users said that their apps’ location services are “very rarely” wrong
  • Only three percent of app users would delete an app because of wrong location data

“I liken location services to two things,” Schneider says. “One is e-commerce, and the other is QR codes. The former is a success and the latter’s a failure, and I think it’s because of the payoff that consumers perceive.”

When e-commerce was in its infancy, companies tended to offer discount pricing of 20-, 30 percent off, Schneider says. Since it was considered “unnatural behavior” to give your credit card to a website, consumers needed a very solid reason for exchanging precious personal information online — even though people were conditioned to give such details willingly over the phone or to a stranger at the checkout counter.

“Businesses had to really entice you, and make the exchange pay off in a big way by saying, ‘Here’s a great price,’” Schneider says. “Then we figured out free shipping would do it, and those two things together were the thing.”

QR codes were not so adaptable, he says, because scanning them was also an unnatural behavior that was off-putting to customers and brands were unable to balance that out with a convincing impetus.

“You see a QR code, and you wouldn’t just be able to point something at it to get the value,” Schneider says. “You’d have to go and find an app, and download the app, and open the app, and take a picture, and then wait for the website to load. The payoff was never great enough for most people. That’s the lesson apps that rely on people turning on their location services need to be aware of.”