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QR Codes Key To Unlocking Billions Trapped In Unused Gift Cards

Blackhawk Network is on a mission to unlock billions of dollars in value that’s stored on people’s smartphones — whether it’s loyalty points, air miles or peer-to-peer accounts — and transform it into something people can easily spend. To do so, it’s looking to leverage two key concepts to free up those funds: gift cards and QR codes.

Blackhawk’s Global Head of Commerce Brett Narlinger told PYMNTS that back in the day, payments were a whole lot simpler than they are now.

“Once upon a time, you had your bank account, your card and you used it — that’s what you did,” he said. “But now, you have these multiple facets of spend and programs that are out there, whether it’s in loyalty points or air miles or P2P, and this trapped value is starting to build.”

Narlinger related his own personal experience, saying that he has thousands of loyalty points built up at different stores, plus hundreds of dollars just sitting there in P2P accounts. He’s not the only one, either. From talking to friends and colleagues, he realized that it’s the same story for almost everyone, with all of this trapped value stored in their phones. “It’s amazing to see all of this wealth that’s being created in our phones that we’re not easily able to use,” he said.

More Like This: Blackhawk CEO: eGift Cards Find New Life As Gaming Currency

Wealth is an appropriate word — the data suggests that U.S. consumers could have as much as $5 billion in trapped value on their phones. Moreover, nine out of 10 people have shown an interest in being able to use those funds. So the question is: What can be done to make that wealth more accessible, so someone can just go into a store and spend it?

“We know we have trapped value, we know we have a cell phone, and then we have this very simple concept of a QR code and also a bar code,” Narlinger noted.

The QR code is the secret sauce that allows Blackhawk to take all of that trapped value and use it at the point of sale, whether that’s in a retail setting or online. Virtually every store now has a QR code reader, Narlinger said, providing a very easy way to take all of that value stored in people’s wallets and use it to buy groceries, pay for a meal at a restaurant or even pay for delivery.

Further Reading: Blackhawk Network: Long Live The QR Code 

Narlinger said that with the launch of Blackhawk’s Enterprise Edition of its digital gifting service, the company is accelerating this unlocking of value. He noted that it provides a way for Blackhawk to expand its digital gifting services to thousands of small and medium-sized businesses that want a piece of the action.

“We had this influx of folks that were calling, saying ‘we need digital’,” Narlinger told PYMNTS. “Our local merchants in mid-size markets need a digital gifting experience, too.”

The Enterprise Edition expands Blackhawk’s offering to SMBs, ranging from local stores to merchants on Shopify and Facebook Marketplace, places where gift cards previously weren’t available. Those businesses are clamoring to use it, he said, because the world is moving away from spot bonuses and cash and toward gifting experiences, especially in terms of employee incentives.

Read More: Blackhawk Network Brings Enterprise Edition Of eGifting Offering To Retailers 

“So we’ve created this proprietary network that brings really great distribution partners — more than 7,000 partners that have come together — and brands,” said Narlinger. “It’s allowing us to support a network solution that enables consumers to purchase where they want, how they want, and then we can redeem that unlocked value at the partner’s location.”

The network Blackhawk has created is evolving into what Narlinger calls a “unified omnicommerce solution” that will not only help to marry the physical world with the digital, but will also simplify that relationship, enabling one-tap shopping experiences for both. The use of QR codes will also expand, he said, because they’re so convenient and can be presented and picked up on the move, whether it’s on the train or at the airport or while waiting for curbside delivery.

“We’re moving toward this truly omnicommerce solution, and 2021 is going to be the acceleration of this movement,” he predicted.

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