Still Some Kinks in Shopkick’s Loyalty App

We’ve written about Shopkick before: the 2009 loyalty startup uses its own specially designed location technology to detect when users walk into the physical locations of its merchant partners. Consumers get points for visiting brick-and-mortar stores, which can be redeemed for gift cards or various other prizes.

The app recently got a wave of big publicity, when Target announced that it would install Shopkick’s loyalty platform in each of its physical locations nationwide. Perfect timing, if we do say so ourselves, for a review of the app.

Of course, consumers have been reviewing the app for weeks now; each item in the iOS App Store gets an aggregate star rating based on user feedback, and in that regard Shopkick has done well, earning a 4.5-star rating based on 1,803 reviews. But is the high rating is merited?

I downloaded Shopkick to my own device, registered using my Facebook account (which was buggy, and caused the app to crash twice before working), and headed over to a nearby Target to take it for a spin. Challenge number one: you have to open the app to get your points — not necessarily a unique feature/requirement in the space, but still something that could deter ignition. Perhaps future innovations in push notification will make way for an improved version of this app down the road.

Anyway, I opened the app and received my points — then noticed that Shopkick rewards other behaviors beyond just walking into a store. Part two of the loyalty rewards program is a scavenger hunt: I was given a list of six products located throughout the Target store, and was told that I would receive even more points for scanning the barcode of each item using the Shopkick app. At first, this little shopping game seemed like a fun way to earn points.

But in retrospect I don’t think I’ll be going out of my way to use that feature again. Perhaps not surprisingly, the app sent me all over the store, from the health and beauty section to electronics to greeting cards, each time rewarding me with what I calculate to be roughly five cents worth of reward points. Maybe this’ll be a fun pastime for when my wife drags me to Target on future shopping trips? But in general, it’s hard to see what audience will be clamoring to participate in these loyalty games — certainly not the mom with two kids who wants to get in of the store and get right back out. So who’s the target?

That said, the scavenger hunt feature provides a compelling offer to individual product manufacturers. For example, I’d never heard of Luster until Shopkick gave me points for scanning its teeth whitening product — and right after I scanned it, I was prompted with a few survey questions about the brand, which I so generously decided to answer without being promised any additional points. But what other loyalty platform out there can get specific products into consumers’ hands in such a measurable way?

All told, my visit to Target using Shopkick got me about one-fifth of the way to a $5 gift card — which is one more dollar than I would have had without it, I guess. But getting paid a buck to go to a store and scan a few products wasn’t the day’s most interesting event.

No, the real “kicker” (pun intended) happened when I went next door to Best Buy, to a location that also happened to be signed up for Shopkick. There I met an employee who checks in and scans products every day — he’s being rewarded for working there! He told me that Shopkick had eventually cut him off from earning additional points, but when he looked again while I was in the store, he was able to earn another credit for going to work. An interesting wrinkle, no doubt.

That same employee highlighted an issue that could prevent Shopkick’s partnership with Visa, which began in November, from taking off: he’s hesitant to link his Visa card to his Shopkick account, despite a much larger points offer, because he’s worried about security. “I don’t know what this company’s doing with my information,” he said.

So there you have it, a detailed recap of the Shopkick mobile app loyalty platform. The points-for-scanning-products feature seems like a unique offer for individual brands, but I’m not sold on the idea that rewarding consumers for walking in is about to take off.

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