By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER
Loyalty cards — those little paper cards that promise a free sandwich or coffee after 10 purchases, but instead get lost or forgotten — are going mobile. And merchants are looking for ways to marry the concept to games that customers can play to earn more free items and, it is hoped, spend more money.
Checking locations of places to shop for possible reward points on the Loopt Star mobile game.
Instead of collecting paper cards and fumbling through wallets at the cash register, customers are increasingly using their cellphones to track their visits and purchases, and receive rewards.
Some start-ups, like CardStar and CardBank, store existing loyalty cards on cellphones with scannable barcodes. And companies including Motorola and a start-up called mFoundry are providing retailers with the technology to build cellphone loyalty cards.
Loopt is one of several start-ups — including Foursquare, Shopkick and Gowalla — that are experimenting with ways to use cellphones to bridge the digital and physical worlds and turn the tasks of everyday life, like buying coffee and running errands, into a game.
On Tuesday, Loopt, one of the first services to let people use cellphones to share their location with friends, is taking its concept a step further by introducing Loopt Star, a mobile game that rewards people for frequently checking in to particular places. People will compete to earn “achievements” and become “boss” of certain locations, and Gap, Burger King and Universal Music plan to use Loopt Star to reward loyal customers.
For retailers, these games and apps offer a new form of mobile marketing that goes well beyond a minibanner ad by rewarding consumers, individually, for their loyalty. And unlike paper cards, stores can use the data they collect from people’s cellphones to learn more about who their customers are and how they behave.
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