Target is now allowing gift cards to be loaded onto an online account that can be accessed from your cell phone. You can actually pay for stuff with your cell phone. Yay! See Target's press release.
I know they aren't the first. Many versions I've seen before, however, have been small scale pilots or in foreign countries. Many scenarios I've seen also are "closed" pilots among the 3-4 parties in an ecosystem that it took to string a trial together. Target has 1740 stores … there's a bit of scale in this solution.
So, how does it work?
First, you buy a gift card. I bought the one with the cute Target dog.
Then you pull the sticker off of the back so you can see the codes. I purchased a $20 gift card.
Instructions for using mobile gift cards as well as promotions are on Target.com. Using their available media – Web site – to promote the new offer? Well done.
Interestingly though, this site ONLY had instructions for the mobile gift cards. I couldn't find a link on this site to regisiter my mobile gift card. This confusion for me is probably the only thing I could find to "ding" them on, so to speak. I'd expect that one of their next rounds of Web site updates would add this link.
I did find the link on their mobile Web site.
Clicked on "GiftCards" and I was led through a series of steps to sign up for a Target account, name my gift card and register my gift card. One of the portions of the UI that I liked was the pop-up numeric keypad for when I wanted to add my phone number, card number, PIN, etc. Well done.
I immediately received an SMS confirming that my GiftCard had been registered.
The SMS also contained a link (URL) to a mobile Web page with a bar code to be used at POS. For today, I think this is probably one of the better ways to save a URL. I send 20-30 text messages a day so this message could easily get lost in my list of messages if I don't delete them or engage in dialogue with Target frequently. Hopefully, some day we have SMS folders or a means of sorting these messages. What I liked is that the short code "TARGET" also had the name in the heading.
(Ok, and no one use my URL … PIN passcode protected, but please don't hack it)
Then I picked up a soda and walked up to a cashier with only one person in line. I didn't intentionally look for a young person or anyone else I thought might be more likely to understand cell phones. I also didn't intentionally tee up the barcode – I wasn't ready at all when my total was rung up. Once I heard my total, I turned on my cell phone, entered my password, clicked on my SMS, found/opened my Target SMS, clicked on the link, entered my PIN … a barcode appeared. The cashier used her optical scanner to scan/image the image quickly and I was on my way with a receipt. So, I don't think it took me a minute, but did it take 30 seconds or so? Yes. Cashier was patient. Having a lot of people in line fumbling around with their phones on a busy day might frustrate some – kind of the way you feel when you're in a hurry and you see that the person in front of you is going to use a check to pay that needs 2 forms of ID.
Overall, it was a really good experience. I cleaned out a desk drawer over the weekend and found about $80 in gift cards. I'm really wishing they were saved on my cell phone. I really like the idea of the cell phone for coupons, loyalty cards, gift cards, etc. When the cell phone is more convenient than the existing alternatives, consumers will adopt mobile. I wish Starbuck's cards were scannable on my cell phone. I can see my total prepaid account value within my Starbucks application, but I don't think I can pay with it.
This was one of the first experiences I had with a mobile payment where I thought to myself, "I can see myself using this and choosing it over carrying another card in my wallet."