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Mobile gifting app lets friends buy each other drinks

Mobile developer Webtab is letting consumers purchase and send real gifts such as drinks to their friends using an iPhone application.

The company’s Bartab platform interfaces with Facebook Connect so that users can send drink coupons to their Facebook friends, which can be redeemed at participating bars and restaurants. The gift costs users $1 dollar to send, and drinks can be redeemed by recipients for $1 as well.

“If you’ve been on Facebook for a while, you are familiar with this concept of virtual gift giving,” said Steve Johnson, CEO of Webtab, San Francisco. “A year and a half ago, we started working on a platform that would allow easy gifting and sending real goods in the real world.

“We decided we would tackle drinks first, because there’s nothing more social than sending a drink,” he said. “So that’s why we came up with the app for the iPhone – and other phones shortly.”

Webtab developed its mobile gifting platform as a way for businesses to engage consumers through social media and micropayments.

Businesses have been turning to social networks as a way of boosting sales.

Major brands like Burger King, Starbucks and Gap are using social media to drive sales (see story).

And, restaurant chain Carabba’s Italian Grill is promoting its deals on social networks like Foursquare (see story).

Bartab is Webtab’s first mobile application, and it is available for free in the Apple App Store.

Webtab is also developing applications compatible with Android and BlackBerry smartphones.

“This drink is on me”
After downloading and launching the Bartab application, users are prompted to log-in to their Facebook accounts, which will allow them to select and send drinks to any Facebook friend.

Here is a screen grab of the application’s home page:

By tapping on the green “Send Drinks Now” button, users access a list of their Facebook friends, who they can select before proceeding to the bar and drink selection pages.

From there, users can choose a participating bar by neighborhood, bar type (for example: restaurant, pub or wine bar) or from a city-wide list of available venues.

The application also recommends featured drinks from different bars.

Once the user has selected a bar, the application will load the bar’s menu of beverages.

After a drink is selected, users are taken to the payment page – they can upload funds directly to the application or charge each individual drink to their credit cards as they dole them out.

The application allows users to save their credit card information for later purchases.

Drinks cost the sender one dollar (the revenues from which go to Webtab) and the receiver pays one dollar to redeem the drink, 100 percent of that revenue going to the participating bar.

Redeeming drinks is a straightforward process.

Bartab alerts users when they have received a drink, and generates a ticket they can present to a bartender at the selected bar to redeem it.

Here is a screen grab of the Bartab drink ticket:

The ticket includes the bar’s logo and an image of the drink, and is stamped with the purchase time.

Recipients have five minutes to redeem the drink, and the time counts down on a digital display in the ticket.

 “One of the reasons this is attractive is because it’s just one drink and one dollar,” Mr. Johnson said. “There is no integration into bars’ core sales systems yet, and there is a strategic reason why.

“There would be very low adoption if we required bars to do verification in their sales system every time someone bought a drink,” he said. “This way, the bar tender is just looking at the time stamp to validate the voucher.

“It is a very user friendly, bar friendly process.”

The application currently only includes San Francisco bars, although Webtab is planning on expanding to New York and Los Angeles in August.

“Right now, we have business development sales reps in the field,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’re targeting the bars and restaurants we want to see, based on their popularity.

“The goal is to hit a critical mass of desirable bars and restaurants,” he said. “Eventually we will have a self add tool, but we haven’t put that up yet because there’s a delicate balance between available inventory and getting users ramped up.

“We have about 70-plus bars and restaurants in the San Francisco area right now, all basically handpicked.”

Real gifts, big plans
“Bartab has tens of thousands of users in San Francisco already, which is a huge positive for us,” Mr. Johnson said. “A benchmark for 2010 is to have over 100 thousand users in the three major markets, plus secondary markets, like Seattle and San Diego.

“We think we’ll do much better than that,” he said. “But, for us, the biggest success would be getting Facebook users to realize that you can now transact real items in the virtual world that you can claim in the real world.

“There are very few companies in the Facebook or virtual world driving this concept.”

What is Webtab’s long term goal? In a word: universality.

The company plans springboard from beverage gifts into other sectors, using its platform to attract businesses in new industries.

“We are working on more global platform that will allow us to enter different vertical markets,” Mr. Johnson said.

Final Take
Peter Finocchiaro, editorial assistant at Mobile Commerce Daily, New York