SparkBase is launching a free app called Paycloud Mobile Wallet for Chicago-area shoppers who have iPhone and Android smartphones, and it does one simple trick: It "eliminates loyalty cards, allowing customers the option of waving a smartphone at a participating merchant's countertop sensor to check in, redeem rewards and coupons and track their loyalty account status."
Sounds neat, no? The demonstration video tells you more:
The team has signed up 55 local merchants for the first phase of the scheme, and they've also worked to enable deals and check-ins, too. But the primary function is the loyalty scheme, which doesn't need any other tech than the wireless radios already built into smartphones. The merchants themselves only need a simple sensor dongle that's designed to interface with their existing point-of-sale systems. To activate your loyalty points system you simply have to use the PayCloud app and approach the sensor pad.
In many ways, what SparkBase is doing here is pre-empting the NFC credit card/loyalty scheme systems that we're expecting to hit the mainstream over the next year or so. There are distinct advantages from a user point of view--you don't have to haul your coffee shop or record store loyalty cards around with you in your wallet; they're all in the app. And you can consult them at will when you're away from the store, perhaps to plan your next free coffee purchase (if that's how you organize your life). From a merchant point of view, there aren't any physical cards to worry about and the data from the system may give businesses a richer insight into their regular shopper's habits. SparkBase is hoping to have up to 200,000 business participating in the scheme after a bigger roll-out, by 2012.
And that's where it all gets even more interesting: SparkBase's system has the benefit of not requiring any new tech (NFC coding/decoding chips and antennas) inside phones, and neatly circumvents the tricky matter of a missing NFC communications standard for credit cards and loyalty cards. Adding in actual payment functionality wouldn't be too hard either--requiring merely a deal with a payments provider. But we know that Google's Wallet is on its way, that bodies like ISIS have big plans for NFC payments, and that even Apple may get in on the game. So SparkBase has stiff competition ahead. Handy that it's launched ahead of the rest then.
[Image: Flickr user joelogon]