Lauren Goode

Mobile Rewards Apps That Lure Shoppers Back to Stores

What would it take for you to shop in stores these days, rather than buy from the comfort of your couch? Some companies are betting that smartphones can help lure you back to the mall by offering rewards, coupons and other incentives that can only be earned when you’re physically in a store.

Personally, my dislike for shopping goes against gender stereotypes. I’d much rather hide behind my computer screen, order all the gifts and clothes I need, and wait for them to show up at my door.

But for the past couple weeks I’ve been venturing out to stores, armed with two shopping rewards apps.

The first app is Shopkick, which launched in 2010 and was recently redesigned. This iPhone and Android app is free, and rewards you in the form of gift cards from brand-name retailers, including Target, GameStop, Starbucks, Macy’s and Sephora.

What makes Shopkick interesting is that you don’t have to buy anything to earn the “kicks,” or points, toward your gift card: You earn kicks just by walking into a store or by using the app to scan a specified item. And these kicks can be earned at any Shopkick partner store, not just the store that’s offering the gift card you want.

The other app I’ve been using is called Kapture. This new iPhone app is all about giving rewards if you capture a photo in-store. As with Shopkick, you don’t necessarily have to buy anything.

The catch? You then have to shamelessly share the Kapture photo to your social networks. Currently, Kapture works at around 300 New York City retail locations.

The participating Kapture businesses were fewer and farther apart than Shopkick partners, but I did manage to redeem two Kapture rewards last week. I don’t think I would use Kapture reguarly, mainly because I don’t want to become that over-sharer constantly posting photos of myself, my clothing or my food, just to get a deal.

Shopkick, on the other hand, is an app I’d be inclined to keep using, even if intermittently. Last week, when I had a half hour to kill between meetings, I ducked in and out of Old Navy just to get 35 kicks.

Consumers concerned about privacy might be a little creeped out by the idea that a Shopkick retailer knows when they’ve entered the store. And users should be aware that if they answer the Shopkick surveys that pop up in the app, that data is given to Shopkick’s retail and brand partners. Fortunately, these in-app surveys are optional and dismissible.

When I first signed up for Shopkick, I selected my goal: A $25 gift card from Sephora, which requires 2,500 kicks. On the main page of the app, there’s a stack of cards, expandable through a quick swipe, that shows all the kicks currently available at Shopkick’s retail partners.

At the bottom of the same page, there’s a location-based feature: “Find kicks waiting nearby.” I mostly used this feature to look for kicks.

My first Shopkick experience was at a Target store, a dangerous task, given that it’s easy to walk into Target with the intent to buy a bathmat and instead walk out with $75 worth of miscellaneous items. I opened the app on my iPhone before walking in. As soon as I walked through Target’s doors, the app chimed and told me I’d earned 35 kicks.

Rather than using the same geo-fencing technology that other location apps use, Shopkick has installed little boxes that sense your entry at thousands of store entrances. (Even when I had spotty cell service, these boxes would transmit walk-in data to the app, and then later, when I had a signal, the kicks would go through.)

Once I entered Target, I could earn more kicks by simply scanning selected products, as directed by the app. So I took a few minutes to find three different beauty products and scan the bottles, which earned me 75 kicks. I didn’t buy any of these products, but I did end up walking out of Target with a bottle of shampoo and a new set of wine glasses. (See? Dangerous.)

There’s also a way to earn kicks through purchases at certain retailers. However, to do this, you have to link your credit card to the app. I opted not to do this, simply because I try to be judicious in terms of how many apps hold my credit card info. I also didn’t spend a lot of time adding specific items to my “lookbook” — a newer feature of the app that earns you kicks, and doesn’t even require you to be in stores.

I had a mildly frustrating Shopkick experience when I went out of my way to get kicks at a Best Buy, only to lose cell service on the lower level of the store, and along with it, my ability to scan items.

After a couple weeks, I had earned over 200 kicks — far from my goal of 2,500, but it was surprisingly easy to accumulate these kicks.

Kapture takes a little more effort. Like Shopkick, it uses your location to tell you where the nearby Kapture rewards, or “photo ops,” are. Kapture breaks these ops down into categories like food, fashion and health and wellness.

I first tried the app at an organic juice shop, where I had to take a 14-ounce bottle of juice and share the photo to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. After I shared the photo, a promo code popped up on the app.

When I showed it to the cashier, he looked at it blankly, but still jotted down the promo code and gave me a free shot of some cayenne pepper juice that lit my mouth on fire. (I still ended up paying $9 for the 14-ounce bottle of juice — something I’ll avoid doing again.)

If for some reason I didn’t want to redeem the Kapture reward right then, I could also opt to save it in my account for the next time I was in the store.

The same thing happened when I went to a bar to get a free beer sampler — the bartender hadn’t heard of Kapture, but still gave me the reward. This time, I had to include myself in the photo, pointing to a map of New York breweries. I felt silly doing this, and even more silly sharing it to my Facebook page.

Kapture says it plans to expand to more U.S. cities in the near future, but for now, those outside of New York won’t be able to use the app and grab “photo ops.”

These apps aren’t enough to tear me away from online shopping entirely, and they definitely won’t lure me out of the house to go shopping during a blizzard like the one we saw this weekend. But in some ways they’re sticky enough to make me at least reconsider how I shop.

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