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REI makes app holiday-ready with new gift card capability

In a reflection of mobile’s growing role in gift card purchases, outdoor gear and apparel retailer REI has updated its iPhone app to enable users to buy digital gift cards.

The new gift card capability is part of a broader update that makes the app compatible with iOS 8 and enables users to more easily edit and delete their credit card information. By updating the app now, REI is making sure that the app is prepared for an expected influx of shopping activity during the upcoming holiday period.

Start with how the mobile experience can be different than any other experience,” said Alex Campbell, co-founder and chief innovation offer at Vibes.. “Since it is intended to be a gift, it would be valuable if I could buy my gift card and then give it to my friend via the app.

“For example, the app could produce a QR code that I could show my friend and that when they scanned the code off my phone it added the gift card to my friend’s phone via Passbook or Google Wallet,” he said.

“I could physically give my friend the card which makes me look good, and my friend would have it installed in his or her phone for the next time they were in REI.  They wouldn’t risk leaving the card at home since it would be in their phone.”

Mr. Campbell is not affiliated with REI and agreed to comment based on his experience.

REI did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

REI has been active in mobile commerce for several years. The latest update to the app brings its current with other leading merchants who have also recognized the opportunity to drive gift card purchases with the loyal customers who typically download a brand’s mobile application.

Gift cards are a perennial favorite during the holiday season and digital gift cards have been quickly growing for several years because of how easy they are to purchase and redeem.

Recent research from First Data shows that electronic gift card sales grew 71 percent from 2012 to 2013. This growth is one reason the company recently acquired mobile gift card wallet app Gyft (see story).

Mobile simplifies the process even more by making it easy for recipients to ensure they always have gift cards handy when they are needed as very few consumers go anywhere without their smartphones these days.

Mobile wallets
Beyond simply purchasing gift cards, mobile users are also looking for ways to easily store and redeem their gift cards, a capability that became popular with Apple’s introduction of Passbook and which continues to gain steam.

In mid-July, the Google Wallet app was updated to add the ability to manage gift cards and redeem them in stores. Users can add cards to their wallet by snapping a picture of them.

Also this summer, Blackhawk Network, a leading prepaid and payments network, partnered with Amazon to offer new mobile wallet capabilities, including enabling users to store, redeem and lockup balances for gift cards for dozens of retailers and restaurants.

Other marketers are expected to follow suit with their own gift card capabilities on mobile.

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