Yesterday, Foursquare put out a shiny new 3.0 version of its beloved check-in app for both Android and iPhone. The new app focuses on: “exploration, discovery, and rewarding loyalty.”

The “Explore” feature gives users access to nearby tips from other Foursquare users, not necessarily just friends. You can enter whatever you’d like into the search box and also browse by food, coffee, nightlife, shops and arts and entertainment. Recommended nearby places surface highly tipped venues. Foursquare also ramped up its Leaderboard, which has notoriously been one of Foursquare’s least used features.

photo 3 220x330 SXSW: Foursquare updates its merchant platform with new SpecialsThe last big update to the latest version of the app includes new types of “Specials,” for loyal customers which will allow businesses to reward their loyal customers and entice new ones. Specials are free for businesses to offer.

To coincide with this new feature, Foursquare updated its merchant platform today with a new series of specials. 7 specials are now available through the merchant platform: Swarm, Friends, Flash e.g. The first 10 people to show up after 5pm get a free drink, Newbie, Check-in, Loyalty, and Mayor.

Businesses can use Foursquare’s self-verification process here to initiate a special within a few days. With the updated platform, merchants can manage campaigns at one venue or across thousands of venues. The Special approval process is now instant, too, meaning businesses can decide to offer a Flash Special and have it up and running within a few minutes.

The updated platform offers merchants powerful data aggregation tools. In addition to seeing the gender breakdown of check-ins, best customers, check-in breakdown by time of day and all other previously available stats, business owners will also be able to view aggregate stats across multiple venues, and the number of times a Special is viewed vs. actually unlocked.