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Facebook lets users hit the stores with its new 'Card'

The social network launched a new gift card product this morning for in-store purchases

Facebook users can now say "charge it," with a new physical gift card the social network is rolling out Thursday that people can use to make purchases in retail stores.

The product, called the "Facebook Card," is a plastic, reusable card that users can give their friends to redeem at four different partner companies: Jamba Juice, Olive Garden, Sephora and Target. Facebook describes the product as "a new type of gift card," in a blog post announcing its launch.

Here's how the Facebook Card is designed to work: A person can select a gift for a friend on the site's Gift Cards & Digital category to be redeemed at one of the affiliated stores. After the user chooses the amount of the gift, the friend is notified and receives the card in the mail a few days later. When the card arrives, the friend can use it at the retailer that was chosen for the gift amount.

If the chosen retailer were Target, for example, the person doing the giving can choose between, say, a US$10, $50 or even $100 value for the card. Once the recipient receives it in the mail, it can be used at any local Target store, Facebook said, although it will not work at Target.com or Target Mobile. Company officials were not immediately available to comment on whether the card would work with websites of the other stores involved in the program.

Also, because the card is reusable, it can store multiple gifts from multiple stores. That means that first-time gifts arrive physically in the mail as the card itself, but then later gifts are loaded instantly, electronically, to the same card, the company says. If there are multiple balances on the card, each balance is dedicated to the retailer associated with the gift, Facebook says.

In other words, a person can have a gift balance of $25 at Target, $10 at Jamba Juice and $40 at Olive Garden. The balances are not cross-distributed among the stores. Card holders can view their balances on Facebook from either their phone or desktop. Facebook will also send an instant notification to recipients' phones whenever the balances change, the company says.

Facebook did not provide details on whether additional vendors would eventually be included in the program. It is also unclear how the card will be sent to recipients who have not provided their mailing address to the site, or whether there would be any other methods to distribute the product for people who do not wish to share their address with Facebook.

Those questions aside, the Facebook Card is a good product that could help the company move beyond the virtual environment where it largely operates today and into the physical world, said Puneet Mehta, CEO of location-based app developer MyCityWay.

The card could lead to payment models beyond gifting, such as microfinance, wherein a person could use Facebook to send money to, say, an entrepreneur in South Africa, he said.

And Facebook's mobile app could eventually bypass the need for the gift card. "Eventually, users might be able to carry money just on the app itself," Mehta said, akin to a "mobile wallet."

Company executives were not very bullish on Facebook's Gifts product during the firm's Jan. 30 fourth-quarter earnings call, so the timing of the card launch is interesting. The company sought to "temper near-term expectations on revenue" coming from areas such as Gifts or search, for instance, and instead focus attention on its mobile platform, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

Facebook said the card will roll out gradually to people in the U.S. The company did not say whether the card would be available in other countries.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is [email protected]


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