Credit cards get connected to offer coupons, loyalty

For all the efforts made to retire the ubiquitous payment card, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But in a world that’s increasingly going online, the credit card is still largely a tool unconnected to the web. Now, we’re increasingly seeing efforts to tie the cards to online actions, making these cards intelligent instruments for not just payments but offers, loyalty programs and other services.

CardSpring, an Accel Partners and Greylock Partners-backed start-up, went live last month with its application platform, which allows developers to create applications that can work with credit cards. Now, the nascent system is getting a huge boost with the help of payment processor First Data. First Data is using CardSpring’s API as the basis for its OfferWise solution, a program that allows publishers to attach offers, coupons and loyalty accounts to a consumers payment cards or mobile wallet. First Data, which serves more than 6 million merchant locations including 4 million in the U.S., is piloting OfferWise with dozens of merchants and will roll out the service to its retail customers starting in May.

The partnership addresses the growing shift toward what First Data calls “universal commerce” as consumers look for a shopping experience that bridges online and offline channels and incorporates personalized deals and product information at all times. Increasingly, consumers are looking for deals online and through mobile channels as they look to save money. But many retailers who conduct outreach and marketing online often run into problems trying to close the redemption loop on offers. With OfferWise, retailers will be to send out a deal through an an offer provider and they can now see which deals are actually redeemed at the store through a debit, credit or pre-paid card. It doesn’t have to be a card transaction either. OfferWise can also connect to NFC-contactless payments and digital wallets like PayPal.

American Express (s axp) and Visa (s v) have also tried similar efforts to connect offers and actions to their cards. AmericanExpress allows deals offered through Facebook, Foursquare and LevelUp to be connected to a card transaction, so a coupon can be processed at check-out. Visa did a test with the Gap (s gps), allowing Gap shoppers who sign up, they can get offers pushed out to them when they make a purchase on their Visa card. With OfferWise and CardSpring, all cards are accepted, making it more flexible for consumers. And merchants can also tap into First Data’s analytics engine to improve consumer targeting and get performance analysis of their campaigns.

“This launch illustrates how First Data is delivering an innovative universal commerce experience to consumers—one that is fully integrated wherever, at anytime and through any device,” said Dom Morea, SVP and division manager, Advanced Solutions and Innovation at First Data in a statement.

Eckart Walther, CardSpring’s CEO told me the First Data deals has been nine months in the making and will be a huge lift for the fledgling company. He said it should be a powerful tool in the hands of many merchants and retailers. OfferWise doesn’t require a merchant to upgrade to new hardware since it’s connected at the payment network level to CardSpring’s API. And for retailers who haven’t set up their own loyalty programs, they can also easily reward users for their transactions by connecting to OfferWise. Walther said the approach makes sense in a world in which cards won’t be retired for many, many years.

“The problem is you always have to carry a card. Until there’s 100 percent adoption of (mobile wallets), you will have to carry a card,” he said. “Our goal is to make that card very smart.”

Walther said coupons and loyalty are just some of the actions you can tie to a card swipe. He said developers could offer check-ins, spending and tracking of receipts, fraud alerts and other services as well.

I think CardSpring, which just raised $10 million, is a pretty smart idea that makes a lot of sense in this age of the smart buyer. Consumers are very savvy now, getting the best deals online and on the mobile phones. They’re increasingly expecting merchants to come to them with the best offers. Now, merchants can do just that and still know they can track those deals through the cards consumer are most likely to use. And with First Data now able to offers this to its retail customers, there’s a good chance many will take a look.

Consumers will still need to give their OK to have their credit card attached to an offer. Entering credit card information is already a barrier that slows down actions and is especially tough on mobile. It’s unclear how quickly consumers will offer up their card numbers for one-off discounts. But for offer providers and merchants with a good track record and relationship, it shouldn’t be too hard to get consumers to connect their cards to offers.

Ultimately, it shows that there’s a lot of ways to tackle commerce as it evolves. While there are big efforts to make the phone a wallet, including Google Wallet, which First Data is a partner in, there’s still plenty of opportunity in tapping the cards in most people’s wallets today.