We measure every last click when it comes to the Web, but there remains a gulf between online and the real world. Yet the online world increasingly drives behavior offline, especially when it comes to purchasing habits. How many times have you researched something online or on your mobile phone before buying it? Yet when you go to a store to buy it, everything you did online might as well disappear as far as the merchant is concerned.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The last mile in local commerce is really only the last few inches between the credit card in your outstretched hand and the card swipe at the register. That terminal is the gateway to the payment network, which today isn’t really connected to the Internet for most practical purposes. The payment networks is archaic and operates based on its own closed standards. But what if it was as easy to connect to the payment network as it is to develop an application on the Web?
That is the question a group of former Netscape engineers and executives are trying to answer with a new startup called CardSpring launching in private beta today. Cardspring is creating an application platform that will allow Web and mobile developers to write applications for credit cards and other types of payments. Cardspring attaches itself to the payment network in a secure fashion on one side, and on the other it presents itself as a platform for developers to create payment apps via Web-standard APIs. It is a bridge between the two networks.
These applications could include things like electronic coupons, loyalty cards, virtual currencies, or yet-to-be-imagined commerce apps. For example, you could get a $10 off coupon online, enter your credit card number, and then when you go to a store and pay with that card, the payment network would recognize the card and give you the $10 credit. Or you could swipe your card and it could email you the receipt. Or it could check in for you. Swiping the card would trigger an application. What you see is a piece of plastic. What the network sees is an application.
If this sounds a little bit like what Groupon, LivingSocial, Foursquare, Square or Google are trying to do, it is because they’ve all been trying to crack this nut in different ways. They all want to close the redemption loop between digital offers and in-store payments. “Groupon threaded the needle with coupons,” says CEO Eckart Walther, but in his eyes daily deals are no more than a “wonderful one-off solution—We are literally inside the payment network.”
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