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How Amex, Foursquare, and Others Advanced the Digital Wallet in 2011

  |  December 27, 2011   |  Comments

After a year of innovation, next year promises more mobile payment disruption.


The so-called digital wallet made important strides in 2011, sometimes eliminating the logistical need for paper vouchers, mobile apps, QR codes, and even cell phones.

At times this transition seems to be sneaking up on us. Earlier this month, thousands of merchants nationwide didn't know they had gained foot traffic and sales thanks to American Express and Foursquare. Amex rewarded consumers who synced their credit cards with their Foursquare accounts with $10 back if they spent the same at local businesses after checking in with the geo-social app. That effort followed up a successful post-Black Friday stint dubbed "Small Business Saturday," when Amex users checking in on Foursquare could get a $25 credit if they spent $25 with a local merchant.

Jake Furst, a business development director at New York-based Foursquare, said there was little to no organizational outreach to local businesses. "The merchants didn't necessarily know what was happening as we drove customers to their locations," he explained. "Small Business Saturday was a huge success. We got a ton of interest from Foursquare users and Amex card holders that didn't know about Foursquare yet."

While the aforementioned offers have expired, merchants can set up new Foursquare check-in deals via Amex's "Go Social" self-service center for SMBs.

Here's how the Amex-Foursquare marriage works for consumers:

  • Sync Amex card with Foursquare account online.
  • Check in at a location.
  • Tap a "redeem offer" button.
  • Pay with Amex card.
  • Get a Foursquare push notification about the money-back reward (see image) within moments after the card is swiped by the merchant.

SMB Program Dismisses Need for Vouchers, Apps, and Cell Phones

Swipely has begun working with 150 merchants in Boston, its launch market. The start-up offers consumers the chance to sync a credit card to its loyalty program. From there, whenever they spend money at a participating merchant, they can receive a reward or discount. Swipely supplies local businesses with point-of-sale signage and materials to promote the program.

Angus Davis, Swipely CEO, said his product should attract consumers and businesses alike because of its usability. There's no need for a smartphone app, much less a printed voucher, he said, in order for shoppers to get rewarded for retail store visits.

"Consumers don't have to change the way they behave in order to check in," Davis said. "Nor do they have to change the way they pay by scanning a QR code [or] using newfangled technology. Our program employs technology that everyone already has and uses."

He added, "For the local merchant, the program doesn't require any changes in the store. They don't have to upgrade hardware, install software, implement any special cards, or re-train their staff."

The 33-year-old CEO said his company would expand to New York, San Francisco, and other major cities in the first half of the upcoming year. "I do think that 2012 is a very ripe time for disruption," Davis said, "especially as the payment space interacts with Main Street merchants."

Other noteworthy developments as digital wallets came into focus during 2011:

  • March/April:Groupon and LivingSocial launch "GrouponNow" and "Instant Deals", respectively, which allow consumers to buy time-sensitive offers with one click on their smart phones. To use the mobile commerce feature, users need to input their credit cards into their daily deals accounts.
  • May 9: Scvngr struck a partnership with American Express to make redeeming LevelUp deals easier for consumers. Amex members who buy the deals need only use their cards while making a purchase to get the discount. As is the case with Swipely, it's not necessary to show the store clerk a paper voucher, barcode, or message on a mobile screen.
  • May 26: Google introduced Google Wallet, which lets consumers pay for Google Offers and other items through their Google account. The Wallet mobile app works with credit card users for Citi, MasterCard, and First Data.
  • Aug. 1: Verizon partnered with Amex to serve as the mobile carrier's digital wallet platform. The telecom was one of the first in its competitive space to create its own digital wallet.

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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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