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Big retailers embrace new shopping app

by Eric Benderoff

Shopkick offers reward points for checking into a store, even more when you buy! Also, Microsoft (MSFT) embraces Xbox games on new phones while Wine Spectator finally releases an app.

Like Foursquare for shopping

A new iPhone app called ShopKick makes its iPhone debut Tuesday (with an Android launch to follow soon) that allows frequent shoppers of big box retailers like Best Buy (BBY) or mall-based fashion outlets including American Eagle (AEO) to check in and earn points toward purchases.

It's like Foursquare in the sense that there's a check-in system, but unlike the popular social tool because you're alerting a store to your presence, not your pals. Will Shopkick be popular? It will try. Best Buy and Macy's (M), two of the nation's biggest retailers have signed on, while the app will appear first in four top shopping towns: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Also, mall operator Simon Property Group will be pushing the app to its tenants.

Essentially, the goal of the app is to reward you for walking into a store, Cyriac Roeding, Shopkick's founder, told the New York Times. “Why does no one ever reward anyone for visiting a store?”

Roeding demonstrated the app to a NYT reporter. By entering an American Eagle store, Roeding would earn 35 "kickbucks," the app alerted him. Kickbucks are the app's currency: the more kickbucks you use -- and you earn them from entering a store, trying on clothes and of course buying -- the more rewards you accumulate. The app also offers users a discount while inside a store, acting more like a traditional loyalty card.

“It’s the first reward programs for desired behaviors,” Roeding told the paper.

As you'd expect, the NYT warned readers about privacy concerns. The app essentially announces that you're in a store and knows your buying habits, but I think those concerns are overblown. People want deals and retailers want shoppers. The more information both parties have, the better the discount. If you're really concerned about privacy, don't give the retailer your phone number when they ask for it during check-out.

Microsoft pushes gaming phone

Last week, we noted that Sony Ericsson was creating an Android phone built around gaming. The phone could eventually shake up how games are sold at the Android Marketplace as well as provide a noted console game maker -- Sony -- a new outlet in an increasingly competitive mobile gaming market. Now Microsoft is following suit.

The Xbox console maker confirmed Monday what had been discussed for a few months: it is bringing a version of the Xbox Live gaming system to its upcoming slate of Windows 7 based smart phones.

After a demonstration of playing Xbox games on a phone, Engadget's Joshua Topolsky said it is "definitely looking pretty promising." The games coming for the system should have broad appeal to Xbox fans, he noted, as the launch titles include the popular games Halo: WaypointStar WarsCrackdown, and Guitar Hero. Topolsky called the gameplay "excellent" and "definitely well suited to a touchscreen device."

Windows 7 smartphones will be available this fall from several wireless carriers and phone makers, including Samsung and LG. Check out the demonstration video:

Slow to mature

What took Wine Spectator so long? The leading wine magazine has finally released an iPhone app, called VintageChart+ By Wine Spectator, and the free app is intended to help wine lovers make the right selection whether they are at a restaurant or retailer. But good luck finding the app; it took my several searches. Why? Because the app store is swimming in wine apps.

Good luck picking the right vintage.