Receipts are the new locations

Checking in by location? Old and busted. Two new businesses check in your receipts.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read

I recently heard two different pitches from entrepreneurs who think that the business of focusing on physical restaurant or retail check-ins--in other words, Foursquare--is old fashioned and played out. At least as a business. They're pitching start-ups that check in your transactions, using the receipts you get when you pay.

The idea is not to get you to share your financial history with the world, as Blippy did at first. That was nuts. Instead, DailyGobble and RewardLoop are loyalty programs, in which you use your receipt as a virtual box top, a proof of purchase that gets you some consideration from the business you just patronized.

Daily Gobble has decent deals for a fairly new service. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

What makes these two services modern and smart is the way they're designed to take the hassle and friction out of making your claims. In the case of DailyGobble, the whole check-in process is stealth, which may appeal to people who don't want to appear to their dining companions to be coupon surfers. First, you find a restaurant deal you like on the DailyGobble site or mobile app. Then you go to that restaurant and have your lovely meal. Afterward, you snap a picture of the receipt from your phone and upload it using the app. Then you get a cash payback in your PayPal account.

What you have to do when you arrive and leave the restaurant: Nothing. DailyGobble execs pitch the fact that you don't have to present "embarrassing" coupons and potentially suffer "inferior service" from waitstaff who know you're dining below normal rates. I'm not sure that's a big problem, but I do like the simplicity of the DailyGobble deal flow.

Meanwhile, the restaurant gets your business, plus some details on who you are and what you ate. DailyGobble itself gets to build a dossier on your preferences and collect a per-seating fee from the restaurants. The business is like OpenTable's, but without that service's traditional recurring fee for its restaurant customers (a newer program, OpenTable Connect, is pay-as-you-go). It's a smart update on the aggregator/loyalty program model.

DailyGobble was part of the 500 Startups demo day in Mountain View last week.


RewardLoop, which I was introduced to at the Grow Conference in Vancouver, is a bit more complicated but may be able to create stronger customer-restaurant connections. It's a modern replacement for the loyalty stamp card (and it's not the only company tackling this issue). With RewardLoop, printed receipts get QR codes appended to them. The customer scans the code, and that creates an entry in their loyalty account.

RewardLoop hacks QR codes onto cafe receipts. Rafe Needleman/CNET

The RewardLoop system is pitched as being more secure that traditional stamp cards; an employee can't over-stamp a card either by accident or as a favor to a friend. Redemption is also secure and tied into the customer's online account. And, as with DailyGobble, each loyalty transaction is a trackable event that generates marketing and customer data.

RewardLoop has clever technology: the QR code is inserted by a hardware device that sits between the point-of-sale terminal and the de facto-standard Epson receipt printer. Unfortunately the business model relies on a hardware rental fee, which may limit growth.

DailyGobble's model is slicker and thoroughly modern, but RewardLoop has its advantages, especially for cafes and other venues with a lot of repeat visitors. With both, using the receipt as the check-in trigger adds security, tracking, and customer convenience to traditionally clunky loyalty and coupon systems.