Jifiti, a startup trying to reintroduce thoughtful gifting in the age of the ubiquitous gift card, has raised $2.5 million in seed funding, the company is announcing today, along with the official debut of its mobile app’s new interface, designed for improved ease of use.
The investment comes from Simon Property Group, a real estate company that operates over 300 malls in the U.S. and Asia, plus Schottenstein Stores Corp., owners of American Eagle and DSW, and the Jesselson Group.
Jifiti’s app arrives at a time when buying a gift usually means loading up a web browser and clicking around a bit. And when you’re not sure of someone’s style preferences or size, those who need to buy presents for friends and family often turn to the gift card instead. But gift cards are viewed somewhat like stuffing cash into an envelope — useful, sure, but not much time or care went into the gift-selection process.
With Jifiti, the idea is to reintroduce the possibility of actually browsing through a brick-and-mortar retailer’s racks to locate a gift, while also eliminating the hassles of gift wrapping, shipping, or getting something the recipient doesn’t want or need.
To use the service, you locate an item you want to buy, then scan its barcode in-store to “purchase” it with the Jifiti mobile app. The item is sent to the gift recipient through an in-app notification or email. And to redeem their gift, the “giftee” simply visits the retailer’s shop to pick up the item you selected in his or her own preferred size or color, or can use the virtual gift card to pick out something else entirely. This process also works online, via the retailer’s e-commerce site. In either case, it’s just a matter of showing or entering in the provided gift card number.
The concept is similar in spirit to what recently acquired Giftly had allowed for, except that it had worked with banks and credit-card issuers to allow gift cards to be used by recipients at up to three different places. You would tap a button and Giftly credited your credit card with the amount of the gift. Jifiti instead works with retailers’ own gift-card systems.
While the Jifiti gift essentially functions like a gift card, it’s also meant to evoke the feeling that someone really shopped for you and thoughtfully chose your present.
For obvious reasons, Jifiti makes sense to mall owners, brick-and-mortar retailers, or even those with both physical and online stores. The startup recently completed a test of its product’s prototype in three Simon-owned malls in the Boston area.
“We brought it to them because we really wanted to catch people when they’re in that shopping mode — they’re walking through the stores and they want to buy people gifts,” explains Jifiti co-founder Shaul Weisband. “Simon malls, which saw this as a way to connect the in-store to the online, realized the potential and actually invested in the company,” he says.
The investment will see Jifiti featured in over 100 more Simon malls by this holiday season, meaning it will be promoted through signage in the malls, video screens and through co-promotions with the mall’s retailers.
Jifiti currently works with retailers like Gap, Nike, Barnes & Noble, Sephora, Gamestop, Hot Topic, Brookstone, Columbia Sportswear, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, and more. In total, the app works with around 25 retailers today, with another seven nearly ready to go live.
Weisband declined to provide the number of consumers using the application, because, so far, the company hadn’t been focused on getting out to market, but had rather been more interested in proving the concept. However, he would ballpark the adoption at “tens of thousands,” and spoke off record of other projects in the works, which would help Jifiti gain even greater visibility and adoption online and on mobile.
Prior to the new investment, the Columbus, Ohio-based company had only a small amount of pre-seed funding from friends and family, so the focus when raising this round was on bringing in strategic partners. “We know how hard it is when it comes to user acquisition and getting to the shoppers,” says Weisband, who says he’s thrilled by Simon Property Group investment. “They’re forward thinkers…they’re always looking ahead to what the mall of the future is going to be like and how they can integrate technology for their users,” he remarks.
In addition, the CMO of Simon Property Group, Mikael Thygesen, has now joined Jifiti’s board as a result of the new funding. The plan now is to focus on the rollout to the 100 or so new malls, as well as on other new product initiatives that would help to transform physical items into digital purchases.
The updated version of the Jifiti mobile application is available here for both iPhone and Android.