Category Archives: Mobile

First Data Bets on Virtual Gift Cards to Drive Local Commerce

Gift cards have been growing astronomically and now make up an industry nearing $100 billion in revenues. You’ll see racks of cards for national brands and retailers everywhere, from Safeway to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

But can local merchants get in the loop? We’ve seen gift card activity increase in travel, spa & salon and hospitality. Most of these are sold in person or on web sites.

And a second question: can they go virtual, with gift cards stored in e-wallets and easily bought, sold and transacted via mobile phone? While the industry is relatively nascent, Mercator Advisory Group says loads onto digital cards have tripled from 2012 to 2014.

That’s the bet that payment processing giant First Data is making today via the acquisition of Gyft, a Silicon Valley ewallet provider that has contracts with 200 major retailers.

First Data is hoping to extend its own prepaid ties with over 300 national retailers, while also working with SMBs who use its Clover touchscreen POS solution. Its Perka loyalty program customers may also be recruited.

Not everyone thinks they can easily move into Gift cards, however. Facebook, today, announced that it was shutting down its virtual gift card service – apparently, it sees other avenues for getting into ecommerce, such as buy buttons, as more immediate and customer-centric.

Perka co-founder Rob Bethge is a featured speaker at BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing conference Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. Check out the full agenda here. Prices go up after July 31.

Wanderful Media Targets SMB Retailers With ‘Find&Save Storefront’

When it comes to search, promotion, customer engagement and just getting found, the challenge for smaller retailers is to level the playing field with larger players (i.e. Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sears). That’s the idea behind Wanderful Media‘s new Find&Save Storefront, an App that allows SMB retailers to promote sales goods, seasonal collections and other items. Several hundred retailers have downloaded the App, which is in soft launch in several test markets. A major launch is planned for October.

The Storefront is an extension of Wanderful Media’s current mission with its Find&Save brand, which currently focuses on large retailer and brand sales “circular” information, which are distributed to about 500 newspaper sites around the U.S. on FindnSave.com and apps for iOS and Android devices.

The new effort marks the second time that Wanderful has tried to serve SMB retailers. Earlier iterations of Find&Save included ads from SMB stores. These were removed from the site’s relaunch in April 2013, however, because they were not really on par, aesthetically, with the larger retailer ads.

The Storefront App, which we found easy to use, enables SMBs to automatically claim locations by their phone number. Once their site and location have been claimed, they can tie geo-sensitive promotional offers or other verbiage to pictures of items they can take with a smart phone. SMB retailers can create as many offers or sales events as they want.

Find&Save Storefront is free to download and use, except for an “Evergreen credit” feature, which enables retailers to promote products beyond the 30 day free period for 99 cents each. Other premium products will also likely be introduced. Features that are being used for Storefront may also be borrowed for other Wanderful apps, such as its sophisticated dashboards for the business and its local peers.

VP of Product Grace Chan told us that Wanderful is poised to serve consumers and three distinct customer groups: “national retailers,” “regional retailers” and local “SMB retailers.” The SMB portion is especially relevant to the company because it has local sales forces set to hit the streets via its local newspaper affiliates.

At the same time, however, Chan notes that SMB needs “may not be exactly the same” as those of regional and national retailers and brands. Local business owners, for instance, pay less attention to brand exposure. They mostly want to drive traffic to the store. They may be less interested in issuing coupons or discounts on a constant basis.

“These merchants like to make ‘offers’ to drive store traffic, not coupons,” said Chan. Or they might simply use the site to introduce a new collection of clothes, or focus on clearance goods. “‘Coupons’ make them think they are leaving money on the table,” she says.

Placing items on the App also takes some planning on the part of SMB retailers. It takes just eight seconds to build an offer, says Chan, but many SMBs aren’t ready to sit down and do that. That’s an area that requires more attention from SMBs, she says.

Wanderful Media COO Doug Kilponen is a featured speaker at BIA/Kelsey’s SMB Digital Marketing conference Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You may register here.

LevelUp Banks on Smart Watch Adoption for Payments

Phone-based digital payments haven’t really taken off – in part, because they aren’t much easier to use than credit/debt cards. You’ve still got to take them out of your pocket.
The notable exception is the phenomenon of My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program, which now has 10 million Starbucks customers actively using the mobile app, twice the number of a year ago.

But if “wearables” take off – i.e. smart watches and to a lesser extent, glasses – there could be rapid growth. In fact, payments are the most practical smartwatch feature (aside from telling the time.)

LevelUp leader Seth Priebatsch told Marketwatch that has always been his vision. The company currently provides an Android app, which automatically asks users if they’d like to pay by using the App when they are near favorite merchants.

“What we really always dreamed of was being the largest smartwatch payment network,” said Priebatsch, noting that LevelUp already claims 1.5 million smart phone users, who can pay at 14,000 locations. With wearables, the sky is the limit (perhaps).

Seth Preibatsch talks with Mark Fratrik at a recent BIA/Kelsey conference

Twitter Acquires CardSpring; Enters SMB Loyalty and Data Space

Twitter has made a bold move to go beyond advertising by adding performance marketing to its portfolio via the purchase of CardSpring, the San Francisco-based startup. The acquisition price has not been announced. CardSpring had raised $10 Million since its launch in 2011.

One of the big tech challenges in the payments space has been to remake the credit/debit card to a “digital receipt” product that can not only process sales, but also leverage specific SKU information, location and customer behavior to add coupons, loyalty points, events and other ewallet items. That’s the challenge that Netscape Vet Eckart Walther gave himself several years ago in launching CardSpring. The company has been positioned as a value add – some would say “middle man” — to both financial institutions and publishers providing marketing solutions for brands and SMBs.

CardSpring’s ambitious goal has been to enable merchants to write their own promotions; distribute them over CardSpring’s publisher network; and redeem and analyze the deal on their Point of Sales. The service’s “near” real-time analytics can show merchants where their redeemed promotions are coming from and what they bought.

CardSpring first got on the map via a 2012 partnership with payments leader First Data to provide check-in promotions at certain venues. More recently, it has also begun integrating with VeriFone’s POS network to enable developers to build their own card-linked services.

The launch of CardSpring Connect in September, 2013 – described as “Google Analytics for the retail world” was a milestone for the company. Foursquare and MOGL are among the most significant publishers providing CardSpring Connect to at least some of their merchant advertisers. Others include Thanx, Roximity, Moblico and OnStripe.

Twitter’s acquisition of CardSpring makes sense to us as Twitter positions itself as a real time marketing channel, and also a “common carrier” that can work widely across the board with key players in the space. This is consistent with CardSpring’s general positioning. The sale of CardSpring itself also suggests that it has been a difficult effort for an independent company to enlist partners to a middle man solution. It has also been difficult to differentiate itself among several other players providing similar features.

BIA/Kelsey looks deep at the SMB Loyalty and Data Space at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans, with such featured speakers as Groupon’s Dan Roarty, Perka’s Rob Bethge and Mercury Payment’s Randy Clark. You can register here.

Booker Launches Mobile Apps for SMBs

Scheduling/booking is coming into its own as a key feature for SMBs, as more and more businesses tie their marketing and promotions to open slots in their schedule.

Key companies in the space include Full Slate (recently acquired by Intuit,) ReachLocal’s ReachCommerce, Groupon Scheduler, Agendize, Moon Valley Software, GenBook, Schedulicity, Maxipage and Hakema (in Europe). Another company, MyTime, was founded by RedBeacon founder Ethan Anderson and is an aggregator of scheduled appointments.

Another major player in the space is Booker, which has raised $42 Million. While focused on the beauty, health and wellness space, it also works with a wide range of national-local players.

Booker announced today a mobile app partnership with Como (formerly Conduit Mobile) to take scheduling beyond the desktop. The app takes less than 15 seconds for SMBs to create.

Mobile apps make a lot of sense in this context. A customer might make 12 appointments per year for cut and color treatments at a salon. For such a customer, a dedicated App — perhaps tied to a loyalty program — coule be especially useful. The same may not always be true for “discovery” segments such as restaurants and retail, which may be better aggregated in directories such as Yelp, Google, OpenTable or YP. Customers may also prefer booking an appointment directly with the SMB, rather than going through a directory site — or at least, this is what Booker is banking on.

Booker CEO Josh McCarter is a featured speaker at BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing, which takes place Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You may register here.

UBL, MomentFeed Partner to Leverage ‘National Local’

In the mobile era, listings are increasingly useless without context. Businesses need to be found via LAT/Long; and they need to shape their business identity using all the tools at their disposal. In recent years, it has gotten even more complex with the addition of social media, content marketing and other channels.

No one has emphasized these realities more than UBL CEO Doyal Bryant. Hence UBL’s newly announced global partnership with MomentFeed, a provider of a digital marketing platform that connects brands and consumers at the local level for top brands ranging from 7-Eleven and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to JCPenney and The Home Depot.

Together, UBL and MomentFeed are seeking to establish a new mobile social anchor for business search and discovery. Besides the Enterprise customers both companies are working together on, they will be working with UBL’s SMB channels to integrate social media with its presence and profile management.

BIA/Kelsey talked this week with UBL CEO Doyal Bryant and MomentFeed CEO Robert Blatt to get their perspective on why this partnership will be compelling.

“When we began (several years ago), it was all about the website,” said Bryant, who noted he has already sent “thousands” of customers to MomentFeed. “You built a profile and focused on being found and having it all sync correctly. But it’s changed due to what is happening with social media and fragmentation.” The change has become “core to the business,” he said.

MomentFeed’s Blatt seconded the thought. It is amazing how much we have moved from the search paradigm of 18-24 months ago,” noted Blatt. “Now search has moved to mobile devices. It has moved off the browser onto the App.”

“Your top priority is suddenly claiming your Google Plus page, and making sure the Facebook Local Page is running, and that there is a place page for each location on your website,” said Blatt. “And that there is accurate and engaging content and interaction for all three places between suppliers and retailers at both the national and local level. That’s the future of digital shop and marketing.”

Blatt feels that MomentFeed’s partnership with UBL allows businesses to get the best of both worlds. They can help businesses “do the job” on Facebook, Google, Foursquare, Instagram, Twitter, Yelp (and soon, Bing), as well as the multitude of listing networks that are often vertical market specific, such as restaurants and travel.

Looking forward, the focus will be on the engagement piece. MomentFeed has taken a lead in turning Instagram into media, for instance. “We let businesses do it, curate it, and then send a follow-up letter,” he said.

Tracking business results via analytics will also be key. It all leads to a linkage between marketing activity and business results, said Blatt. The company will correlate the marketing activity around a location with the revenue and foot traffic at that location.

DataSphere: Opportunity in Mobile Advertising for SMBs

The times are a changin’ when it comes to SMB customer acquisition. Non-traditional options – including the use of social media, mobile targeting and promotional calls to action – provide opportunities for SMBs looking to take advantage of shifts in consumer behavior.

Few companies have been as energetic in capturing this shift as much as Seattle-based DataSphere, which has quietly amassed 20,000 SMB accounts, making it one of the largest SMB marketing platforms.

Changing with the times, DataSphere is moving its focus away from buying ad space on local Websites. Instead, it has developed a set of services based on mobile ad networks, which can target customers on a geotargeted and just-in-time basis.

The company is also focusing on LocalSaver.com, a coupon portal; and the LocalSaver Network, a distribution network. LocalSaver goes beyond coupons to provide SMBs with enhanced features such as landing pages, updated listings designed to maximize consumer engagement and video. (DataSphere has built videos for 90 percent of its customers.)

The rise in mobile usage, in particular, has led to a major boost in SMBs’ use of geotargeting – and in the availability of geotargeted ad exchange inventory. Seventy percent of LocalSaver traffic is now lat/long enabled, says SVP Gary Cowan.

This is an edited excerpt of a new BIA/Kelsey client brief, “DataSphere: Leveraging Mobile Advertising and Changing Course with 20,000 SMBs.”