Shopkick CEO talks shopping rewards, privacy and the future

Woman with fistfuls of cashThis week Shopkick, an app that allows for real, verified check-ins at retail stores like Best Buy, American Eagle, Sports Authority and Macy's, launched on the iPhone. The tool allows users to launch an app on their smart phone that can detect an inaudible-to-humans sound when you walk into participating retailers and provide rewards for visiting.

These verified check ins, that have already started in New York and other select markets are only the tip of the iceberg as Shopkick also provides offers to app users -- even if their local store doesn't have the equipment needed to provide rewards for verified visits.

A few days after launching the Shopkick app, CEO Cyriac Roeding joined WalletPop for a phone interview to share more about the service. Read on for more on checking in with Shopkick, your privacy, rewards, offers and the future.

On Checking in: Traditionally checking in to a store with a location app on your smart phone, such as Foursquare, only required that you be nearby a store. With Shopkick, users can open the app and, thanks to a patented in store sound that is inaudible to humans, earn rewards just for walking into the store. These rewards, called kickbucks, can be traded for Facebook credits, instant gift cards at participating retailers or donated to over 30 organizations.

On Privacy: In our post-Facebook privacy meltdown world one of the immediate concerns is what retailers could do with the data gleaned from these walk-in shoppers. When asked if retailers, like Best Buy, could see if I had visited or knew if I was in the store, Roeding was quick to reply, "No." He later added, "We would have never started the company if the answer had been yes."

When it comes to data available to retailers Roeding told WalletPop that they would only be able to access aggregate data such as the average customer base or the best hours of the day. The only time the app would transmit information to the store is if a consumer specifically asks for the information to be shared, including their loyalty card number.

One thing Roeding emphasized in the interview was that the system is not only opt-in once, when consumers download the app, but also when they launch Shopkick. He compared the service to a GPS device that doesn't know where you are until you turn it on and allow it to determine your location.

While some privacy advocates have voiced concerns, the Shopkick privacy policy does support the use of information and scenarios that Roeding describes.

On rewards: Shopkick is one of the first tools that rewards you for simply walking into the store. If you enter a participating retailer and open the Shopkick app it will check you in and deliver a specific number of kickbucks to your account. You can also earn kickbucks by scanning specific items at a store such as a Gillette Razor or Philadelphia cream cheese. These kickbucks can then be redeemed for a discount directly from your phone. At Best Buy you can redeem and the discount will be waiting for you at the register. In other retailers you may be required to show the cashier your phone. To earn kickbucks for walking into a store you will need to be at a store with a Shopkick signal, but you can scan items to earn kickbucks at any retailer stocking the item, since that verifies a visit.

On offers: In addition to the rewards that require users to visit a store a given number of times, Shopkick also delivers offers such as a 15% off offer for American Eagle or a 10% off Best Buy offer to users who are near a store, even if it isn't one of the current 250 Best Buy locations that have the Shopkick signal.

On why stores will participate: The pressing question many people have about this type of app is why a store would want to reward you just for visiting. The answer, according to Roeding, is quite simple -- foot traffic. Odds are, if you go into Best Buy you will purchase something which gives the retailers a reason to want more shoppers, and in order to draw you in more often they are willing to offer small rewards so that you may be tempted to come in and look around more than usual.

The future of Shopkick: Shopkick is currently available for free on the iPhone and will be available for Android devices this fall. Right now the app can only tell when you enter the store, but Roeding tells WalletPop that in the near future it will be able to let the Shopkick app determine what department you are in and reward you with more kickbucks or special offers for visiting a specific area like the home theater department at Best Buy. He added that the only way the app will know if it is in a specific department is if the app is open, which gives consumers the ability to control when the app knows where they are. Another future feature will likely offer Shopkick users the ability to pull up reviews for the item they just scanned so that they can earn kickbucks and research purchases at the same time.
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