Right to reply: Barclaycard’s mobile site could be the boost Freedom needs

Will Barclay’s new mobile location services prove top be a hit with consumers? Julia Kukiewicz, editor of Choose.net, takes a closer look at the bank’s latest geo-location venture.

Last week, Barclaycard unveiled a new mobile site.
The site allows Barclays customers to check their account balance and view payment or transaction history and, soon, they’ll be able to make payments too.
Actually, though, (and it’s not often one gets to say this about Barclaycard) they were underselling one aspect a bit. With geo-location, Barclaycard customers can now find the nearest retailers participating in the Barclaycard Freedom scheme.
If they get it right, that service will be a huge boost to the Freedom rewards scheme.
Why is it important?
For two reasons: to roll-out NFC and supporting the scheme’s smaller retailers.
Given its enthusiasm for contactless payment, it’s likely that Barclaycard will be keen to harness near-field communication (NFC) to make our mobiles our wallets soon.
A good mobile site is a prerequisite for cementing trust in those services and getting consumers engaged right from the off.
More than that, though, and although consumers will obviously benefit from a good mobile site, the real winners could be Freedom’s smaller retailers.
Freedom is a strange hybrid – not quite brand-specific enough to be a loyalty scheme and not as broad as a straightforward cashback scheme. For it to work, consumers need to know the independent retailers where they can earn and redeem.
Barclaycard merchants are currently opted-in to the scheme but they face higher merchant fees for participating – an extra 2% when a customer earns Freedom points on their spend (though no fees when reward money is spent).
In return, Barclaycard promise an increase in sales. By its own estimate, the scheme has seen participating retailers increase sale volumes by 7%, with over £200 million worth of transactions qualifying for rewards.
I’m willing to bet that applies disproportionately to the big players – the Npowers, Shells and Pizza Expresses – rather than the mom and pop stores that just happen to have a Barclaycard terminal.
If consumers don’t realise where they’re picking up points it’s these smaller retailers that’ll suffer and if they opt-out there goes Freedom’s biggest selling point.
The mobile site could help Barclaycard to make good on that promise (though encouraging retailers to shout about the scheme themselves wouldn’t hurt either).
Stumbling block
So this mobile site is important. One stumbling block: it’s not great yet.
When I tried to use it yesterday the geo-location feature was slow and, even with good signal, it was fifty/fifty on whether a map would load – a pretty vital part of the service, a list of retailers isn’t much good.
It’s still good but if Barclaycard could make it sing they’d be boosting their Freedom scheme immeasurably into the future too.
This is a guest post from Choose. The site covers rights issues, research and debate into the consumer credit card and more broadly personal finance markets.