Solving the Last Inch Problem: A Conversation With Shopkick

A theme has emerged from many companies we’ve talked to lately; building tools to drive and influence consumer decisions at (or nearer to) the point of purchase. This isn’t terribly new and of course is a function of the portability of the mobile device. But it’s evolving quickly.

Conversations with TomTom and TeleNav showed us new metrics for moving beyond clicks and calls by instead measuring incidents of “drive to.” Meanwhile, Foursquare, Fanminder, Convergent, Shooger and a host of companies we’ve talked to are working on different flavors of on-site customer loyalty.

Inching Closer to the Register

Shopkick is working on this general principle but with an interesting twist. We’ve written about the company and its partnership with Best Buy, but today I had the chance to catch up with Director of Product Management Evan Tana about the company’s iPhone app.

Shopkick works directly with retailers to provide in-store rewards for certain actions like walking in the door or scanning a bar code. This comes with game mechanics (unlocking levels and badges), but also a monetary exchange in the form of “kickbucks,” good for retail gift cards, donations and Facebook Credits.

But don’t call it an LBS play, check-in service or any number of mobile/social/ local mashup categories that have come to define the Foursquares and Gowallas of the world. Tana thinks of it more as a service that transforms offline shopping. It’s also different in that retailers aren’t advertising per se.

“This isn’t an ad buy but a partnership with the retailer,” says Tana. This makes sense if you consider the deep integration of real hardware within hundreds of store locations. This is the technology that allows users to verify they’re in the store, checks them in, and presents promotions and kickbucks.

On that note, real offline retailer partnerships are also what separate ShopKick from the 2008-2009 graduating class of check-in services.  Foursquare has brand-sponsored badges and “tips,” but most mobile/social upstarts are social tools with a business model TBD. ShopKick seems to be the other way around.

Form Fitting

Current partners are a blue-chip list of retailers like Best Buy, Macy’s, Sports Authority and American Eagle. Many more are in the works that I can’t mention yet, in addition to new verticals where the product makes sense.

The challenge here, according to Tana, will be creating different experiences in retail environments where there are different goals, ways people shop, margins and frequencies of transactions (think flat screen television vs. a pair of jeans).

“It starts with the shoppers,” said Tana. “What are their needs? What are their use cases? What is the behavior I’m trying to enable?”

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Related: Tana will be in full effect at our upcoming Interactive Local Media conference to tell us more.

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