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The Green Sheet Online Edition

January 14, 2013 • Issue 13:01:01

Gift card mall goes mobile

sellingprepaidSafeway Inc. subsidiary Blackhawk Network became a leader in the gift card market when it invented the gift card mall concept in the early 2000s. By grouping nationally branded gift cards together and displaying them on racks in grocery stores, consumers were given a convenient way to purchase gift cards for all types of occasions. Now, Blackhawk has launched Blackhawk Digital to extend and expand the gift card mall to mobile devices.

The new mobile gifting platform is being marketed to businesses as a way to leverage Blackhawk's extensive retail network and gift card connectivity via mobile phones. In conjunction with the platform's November 2012 launch, Blackhawk President Talbott Roche said, "Blackhawk Digital is like buying a customer relationship management system already filled with new business contacts. Companies can immediately develop the products, services and marketing campaigns they need to reap the benefits of prepaid digital commerce."

Tim Attinger, Director of Strategy and Corporate Development at Blackhawk, explained that the mobile platform expands the functionality of the gift card mall. "Consumers can get their balances," he said. "They can see the card art for that particular card. They can keep all of their cards in one place. They can get offers associated with those gift cards. They can get incentive offers from retailers in the form of a gift card.

"There's a lot more that we can do with the business relationships we've got with our hundreds of retailers through this digital platform. There's a lot more that consumers can do with those retailers."

Blackhawk Chief Marketing Officer Teri Llach said the platform sets up Blackhawk to be the digital gift card element of other companies' mobile wallets. She stated, "What we have tried to do is say, look, we know prepaid. We've done prepaid for years. We've got the connections and the technology for prepaid. Let us have the ability to connect the prepaid market into any kind of e-gifting or digital wallet or partnership out there that makes sense.

"And so, in a sense, we become that component of anybody's wallet which helps the consumer with their prepaid product."

Open for business

Blackhawk Digital offers third-party developers an application programming interface (API) to integrate applications with Blackhawk's platform. "We built a platform that allows all the people in the world who are building solutions for mobile devices, and for those consumers, to build us into what they're delivering," Attinger said. In kind, those developers get access to the hundreds of retailers on Blackhawk's network.

The first mobile app developer to take advantage of Blackhawk's open API was Wrapp. The developer offers a friend-to-friend marketing platform via social media site Facebook. By "bolting" into Blackhawk Digital, Wrapp users can send e-gift cards from retailers in Blackhawk's network to their Facebook friends.

Attinger said Wrapp users are essentially marketing Blackhawk's retailers to their friends. He noted that those retailers are enthusiastic about the new partnership since word of mouth is considered the best form of marketing. "For the retailer it's wonderful because they are getting access to consumers and new customers with those offers who will then come in and obviously spend more than the value of that offer," he said.

Llach added that retailers can join Blackhawk and get easy access to Facebook users via Wrapp. The opposite is also true as Wrapp added 600 to 800 Blackhawk retailers to its platform in one fell swoop, rather than having to integrate with each of those retailers individually.

Attinger said, "It's a really wonderful way to simplify things for our retailers, increase the variety of offerings for consumers, and certainly for Wrapp it just made logical sense for them to bolt into one of the largest retail networks out there and really expand their business."

The next level

The synergy of Blackhawk Digital also extends to smaller retailers that have yet to join the network. Merchants that weren't big enough to justify being in a physical gift card mall no longer have that limitation in the mobile realm. "Now retailers who maybe didn't make sense because they were local or regional will make sense in a digital location," Llach said.

As Blackhawk embarked on its journey into the mobile space, Llach remembered the early days at the distributor when it only offered a few cards from a mere handful of retailers. Then, as now, Blackhawk listened to consumers and how they wanted to buy and give gift cards, she said. While Llach is confident that physical gift cards aren't going away anytime soon, consumers increasingly want to compare, purchase and send gift cards via mobile phones and tablet computers.

Llach said, "We listened to the consumer who says, 'Hey, we love your retail distribution, thank you very much. But let's take it to the next level.' The next level is digital." end of article

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