Since the Electronic Transactions Association awarded the 2011 Technology Innovation Award to Paycloud, a smart phone-enabled mobile wallet for merchant loyalty and gift card programs, interest has been brisk for SparkBase, the Cleveland, Ohio-based gift and loyalty processing network.
"We've been adding ISOs at a really rapid clip in the last three to five months," said Doug Hardman, Chief Executive Officer of SparkBase. "For us to be able to add big partners and then get something like this to launch has been gratifying. But at the same time, it showed us we were really onto something." SparkBase had been looking to create a centralized gift card, where smart-phone users could enroll in multiple loyalty, gift and reward programs through a single app. The impetus for SparkBase in partnering with Naratte, a San Francisco, Calif.-based company with audio-based near field communication technology, was to enable development of a virtual card that could immediately integrate directly with the POS system, Hardman said.
The linking of Naratte's Zoosh software with the terminal integration and processing capabilities of SparkBase allows consumers to conduct mobile-generated loyalty and gift card transactions on SparkBase-integrated terminals "with just one click," Naratte Chief Development Officer and co-founder Byron Alsberg said in a statement.
When a customer is within close proximity of a Paycloud terminal plug-in sensor, Naratte's Zoosh software enables merchants to deliver an encrypted message to the customer's smart phone. The SparkBase platform then processes transactions and reconciles data over a secure network.
"If I'm a merchant, I can send an offer out to 1,000 virtual cardholders, offering them all a 50 percent off coupon that's immediately on their phone, and that coupon expires in an hour and a half," Hardman said. "Now I've alerted people that I've got this special offer on entrees today at lunch. I let the customer come in and use it if they want to. If they don't use it, then it goes away."
Describing the customer experience, Hardman said, "I'll be able to open my Paycloud app. I'll hit the map button. It's going to show me the 20 or 30 merchants in the area, and it's as easy as touching them on screen to enroll in their programs. So I'm instantly enrolled in the program for the [nearby] merchant ... and I didn't have to fill out a form."
Paycloud also generates real-time reporting on customer trends. "It's very detailed," Hardman noted. As an example, he said, "It says these 30 people came in today; their average spend was $200; they saved $96; you gained this much by doing that type of coupon. If I can show ROI to a merchant on the coupons they gave away, that's something that nobody can do right now."
Hardman said if a customer has a change of address, the system automatically updates all the merchants they're enrolled with.
When interviewed in June 2011, Hardman was scouting retail locations in Cleveland and Chicago for the pilot launch of Paycloud in July, prior to its nationwide rollout scheduled for August.
The Paycloud app is free to customers. Merchants will pay a monthly fee for the service and purchase the plug-in sensor, which will be available exclusively through ISOs and merchant acquirers.
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