As retailers increasingly harness social-networking websites such as Facebook to market their brands, payment companies are seeking ways to capitalize on the trend.

InComm Inc. this month acquired GroupCard, which has developed a Facebook application that enables consumers to purchase gift cards from a retailer’s Facebook fan page or website.

InComm’s acquisition is part of a plan to help the Atlanta-based prepaid card marketer “evolve the payments space” through technology, Brian Parlotto, InComm senior vice president of consumer products and international, tells PaymentsDource.

GroupCard is now a wholly owned subsidiary of InComm and will continue operations with its existing managers in Palo Alto, Calif. and Milwaukee. InComm plans to use the company to help its retail partners enhance their social-networking presence.

GroupCard’s application enables multiple consumers to add to a gift card’s value and participate in a “group gift.” John Anderson, GroupCard founder and CEO, developed the application while in business school. The idea came to him after he had trouble getting classmates to participate in a group gift to thank a professor. GroupCard began testing the product on Facebook a year ago (see story)

Consumers who receive a gift card purchased through GroupCard will receive an email with a link to the card. At the moment, all of GroupCard’s partners use a PIN that enables consumers to redeem the card’s value online or, in some cases, at the brick-and-mortar location.

For example, A.J. Bombers, a Milwaukee-based restaurant, uses GroupCard on a Facebook fan page as part of its digital marketing effort. Gift card recipients can print out the PIN for use in the restaurant. The service is free to use.

“It became quite popular on Facebook and has evolved into a group greeting card and group gift card system,” Anderson tells PaymentsSource. Facebook also decided to invest in GroupCard. “Facebook and social networking grew around us and we became close partners with them,” Anderson says.

Facebook’s endorsement helped GroupCard attract retailers as the company “went from being a social marketing experiment for [retailers] to being a solid social marketing platform,” Anderson adds.

InComm will continue to use GroupCard in much the same way, Parlotto says.

“The ideal situation would be to enable [the application] on a retailer’s Facebook fan page,” Parlotto says. “That creates a situation where you can create commerce on the fan page.”

Parlotto declined to reveal which InComm retail partners will use the application, but “the flexibility of the platform enables us to get [a retailer] set up fairly quickly and would require very little work from the retailer’s end,” he adds. 

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