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American Express taps mobile to update loyalty program for the holidays

American Express is introducing several mobile upgrades to its loyalty program to make holiday shopping easier, including launching mobile gift cards that can be used to pay for purchases at Banana Republic, Pottery Barn and Old Navy.

With the introduction of Mobile Gift Cards, American Express is giving members of its Membership Rewards program a way to use their points for mobile gift cards and pay for purchases at participating retailers using their smartphones. Additionally, the Membership Rewards tablet app has been updated to let users shop for products at more than 60 online retailers.

“Our Cardmembers want two things: The ability to use the points they earn for the things they love, and the flexibility to use points for rewards whenever they want them, wherever they are,” said Melanie Backs, public affairs manager and American Express, New York.

“By introducing Mobile Gift Cards, Cardmembers have more flexibility to use Membership Rewards Points for gift cards instantly with their smartphones,” she said.

Popular rewards
The mobile gift cards are currently available at eight retailers: Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, PBteen, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, West Elm and Williams-Sonoma.

The mobile gift cards can also be used to pay for items online or over the phone.

Mobile gift cards give smartphone owners another way to use their phones to pay for purchases this holiday season.

In a survey of U.S. consumers, American Express found that 32 percent plan to use their smartphones for holiday shopping this year, an increase of 8 percent from last year.

“Holiday shopping is ramping up, and we know our Cardmembers love to use their Membership Rewards points to buy gifts this time of year, and the gift card is one of the most popular rewards,” Ms. Backs said.

“As the worlds of online and offline converge, we’re finding new ways for Cardmembers to use points wherever they are, whether at the office, at home or on the go via their smartphones,” she said. “Now, Cardmembers can use their points for rewards on their phone, manage their accounts and monitor their spending.”

Offsetting costs
Mobile gift cards also make it easy for loyalty members to redeem their reward points to offset the cost of holiday shopping, another trend that is growing, according to the American Express survey.

The results show that 16 percent of consumers will turn to rewards points to offset the cost of holiday shopping, up from 13 percent last year.

To use Membership Rewards points for a mobile gift card, users need to log into their account via the American Express app or by visiting its Web site from a smartphone. From there, they can browse the Mobile Gift Card catalog and use points for the desired card.

When users are ready to make a purchase, they select the gift card in their account’s Gift Card Wallet, select “tap to pay” from a smartphone and show the bar code and Gift Card number at checkout.

American Express has also updated its tablet apps for Apple and Android to include a rich, touch-friendly shopping experience at more than 60 online retailers. Additionally, a new Tablet Points Summary feature provides an interactive bar chart showing up to two years worth of monthly point activity.

 “Touch shopping on the tablet gives our Cardmembers the flexibility to browse and use Membership Rewards points without being tied to their computer,” Ms. Backs said. “The tablet also has a rich, graphic experience, that lets Cardmembers visualize their Membership Rewards activity throughout the year.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York