Treater nets $2.5M for just-because social gifts

Next time a friend posts a message on Facebook(s FB) about a big win at work or a bad day, you can do more than just “like” the message or say you’re thinking about them, social gifting startup Treater wants to help you send them an actual physical, consumable gift.

Yes, startups like Karma (which was purchased by Facebook in May), Wrapp and Boomerang already use Facebook as a platform for sending tangible gifts and experiences to friends. But Washington, D.C.-based Treater, which Wednesday launches to the public, doesn’t want to focus on formal occasions (as the aforementioned rivals do), it wants to offer a platform for sending casual, impromptu  gifts.

“It’s all the little things that are a little bit more meaningful than a like or a post to show you’re thinking about somebody,” said CEO and co-founder Jeff Ross.

In addition to coming out of beta, the company is announcing that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding from several funds and angel investors. As part of the round, the company will add to its board Fred Schaufeld, managing director of SWaN Investments and founder  of NEW Asurion Corporation; Jack Davies, founder and former president of AOL International; and Gene Riechers, former general partner at Valhalla Partners.

In broad strokes, the service seems to work much like Wrapp and Boomerang.  Users select the Facebook friend  they’d like to send a gift and, through the platform, they can notify the recipient of the gift.  But while Wrapp and Boomerang are focused on higher-ticket items (with the former partnering more with national retailers and the latter working closely with local merchants), Ross said Treater is focused on lower-priced items, such as Peet’s coffee from Peet’s or a Chipotle burrito.

By zeroing in on the lower-value items, Ross said, the company hopes to expand the circle of friends to which people might gift from a handful of people who might get a $100 present to dozens who could receive $5 gifts.

Once gift-givers select a friend and an item to gift – from a cupcake or beer to movie tickets or a lunch – as well as a personal note, Treater sends a message to the recipients smartphone via Facebook wall post, text message or email. To redeem their gift, recipients show the “treat card” (a one-time-use credit or debit card) on their phone. Treater takes a cut of the transaction. Some of the merchants who accept treat cards include Peet’s Coffee, Caribou Coffee, Cosi, Chipotle and Urban Outfitters.

For gift-givers, it’s an easy way of sending friends a “thinking-of-you” treat.  And, for the merchants, it’s an interesting way to use social media to drive commerce and traffic, without discounting goods and services. I’m curious to see if Treater can encourage more spontaneous gifting, as that seems to be its biggest point of differentiation. But the startup is is entering a crowded field and, while its rivals play up formal occasions, they could easily shift their positioning. In addition to Wrapp, Boomerang and Karma, Starbucks offers consumers a way of sending redeemable digital gifts to Facebook friends, and CashStar and SocialGifts enable other retailers and chains to do the same.