This weekend, we told you about the launch of Square Wallet gift cards, which allow you to send gift cards to friends to their favorite places to eat and visit in their neighborhoods. The power of this is that you don’t have to visit the physical store to buy an actual gift card, which is a time suck any way you slice it.
Additionally, it lets you send more gift cards no matter what time of year it is. If someone made you smile, why not send them a $10 gift card to Starbucks? That’s exactly what Square is placing its bets on you doing. Businesses are obviously happy about it, because it spreads their footprint when they might not have the marketing dollars or know-how to do so.
Whether you agree with or like what Square is doing, no other company has launched a gift-card program at this scale before.
We spoke with Square COO Keith Rabois today about the launch, what it means for consumers and businesses, as well as how Square can continue to grow to make a better payment experience for everyone involved.
TechCrunch: What do gift cards mean for the future of Square?
Keith Rabois: Obviously we’re extremely excited about gift cards. A product like this has never been seen before – you can buy things from your couch that are custom and thoughtful.
TechCrunch: At the end of the day, what does Square want to do for consumers?
Keith Rabois: We’re giving them a vast array of experiences with gift cards, and saying “just from your phone or sofa you can treat a friend somewhere, with one click.” When I buy someone a gift who is close to me, I’ll go out of my way to go shop for them, although often I’m fairly lazy and procrastinate, so maybe I get them a generic gift card or something lame. With Square, now I can send everyone I care about a gift card, not just for holidays or events, and it’s meaningful.
I’ve been able to send colleagues gift cards for doing great work. If I had to physically go to their favorite stores in person, would I really have done that? My parents are in New Jersey. Would I be able to go there? I don’t go to New Jersey anymore. Square Wallet eradicates that problem. It’s actually fun.
TechCrunch: How are businesses growing and benefitting from what you’re doing, including gift cards?
Keith Rabois: What Square Wallet Gifts does is take their best customers and amplify their voice. I don’t have an easy way of encouraging my friends to go to places. They tweet and Facebook about it and I see it. I can incent my friend to visit their favorite places. Every business is now giving a megaphone to their best customers, and we can help share that experience and magic with our friends and family by “picking up the tab.”
TechCrunch: Does disruption bring backlash?
Keith Rabois: What we think we’re doing is empowering…revolution, not disruption. We’re not trying to rearrange the world, just improve it. Any time you launch new products and services, it takes consumers time to adopt it. In 1997 not everyone was comfortable with buying things online. Two years ago Square seemed a bit far out there. Right now 40 million, nearly 50 million Americans have bought something through Square. You realize how different it is and you get more comfortable with it. Almost everyone in the U.S. knows someone who bought something with Square. Eventually, everyone will know someone who has.
TechCrunch: How does Square use social signals to improve the product and experience?
Keith Rabois: We have a lot of data ourselves about where people like to shop, and use of those signals to prioritize and recommend where people like to go is something we already do. We process millions of transactions a week and we study that data and infer what we should suggest. You will see us recommend gifts to people in many ways and show you where you will like based on transactional data.
TechCrunch: How did the launch of gift cards go?
Keith Rabois: It was incredibly successful. Reaction on Twitter alone shows the popularity.
Not only does Square have a lot of data, it is using it wisely. By using information about where people like to go, and how often they go there, the company can create a better, more profitable product for itself, as well as businesses and merchants.
The idea of Square being revolutionary rather than disruptive was interesting to me, as well. Maybe not everything has to be “broken” to be fixed. Following what Square is up to is interesting, and it’s one of the products that I hear most about from those who aren’t super geeks. That is a signal that the company is on to something massive.