Pirq Snaps Up $1.2 Million for Low-Tech Loyalty Program

Pirq has raised $1.2 million in a second round of funding to launch a new service that’s trying to replace the punch card.

Many believe the future of tracking purchases and making payments lies with near field communication technology or smartphone applications, but this Kirkland, Wash.-based company is betting on something much lower tech: Text messaging.

“It’s not only because not everyone has a smartphone, but in a high-volume restaurant, or coffee shop, they don’t want someone fumbling around or holding up the line,” said James Sun, CEO of Pirq. “Text messaging is very fast, and it’s supported by all phones, including feature phones.”

Pirq became well-known this summer after announcing a partnership with Apple to bring an exclusive set of restaurant deals to all of its employees in Silicon Valley. But that was just a side deal to get the start-up some buzz. The company’s core business is in running loyalty programs for any small business. Many others are competing in the space, including Groupon, Belly and FiveStars.

Pirq takes a slightly different approach. For $50 a month, it gives each merchant an Android tablet to place on their counter. From there, consumers can scan a bar code using the Pirq application on their iOS or Android phone, or they can choose to send a text message to the short code displayed on the screen. Because they have a choice, consumers don’t have to take the time to download a new application, or even register — two big hurdles for adoption.

Merchants also have a choice on what to offer loyal customers. They can either reward consumers who hit a certain spending threshold, or they can send consumers a text message to promote a deal during off-peak hours, when business is slow. “There’s a big trend right now,” Sun said. “[Merchants] don’t want to discount the brand to the public. They are private deals for existing customers.”

Merchants pay $50 a month for the service, and from 50 cents to $6 for each reward redeemed. Costs vary depending on the service, ranging from cups of coffee on the low end to spa services on the high end.

The second round of funding was led by Rally Capital, and brings the company’s fundraising total to $3.2 million. The funding will go toward rolling out the company’s new text messaging program. Sun said that the service will be live in 70 stores in Seattle and San Francisco by the end of next week. The company plans to raise a larger round next year to hire sales people to expand nationwide.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus