Mobile Matters


How Apple’s Passbook Will Shape Mobile Marketing’s Future

by: | December 31, 2012

The September launch of Apple’s iPhone 5 also heralded the introduction of its revamped iOS 6 mobile operating system, and while the much-maligned Apple Maps platform is generating the lion’s share of (negative) publicity, the new Passbook application appears poised to make the biggest impact.

Designed as a virtual wallet collecting coupons, retailer loyalty cards, movie tickets, transit passes, and related digital ephemera in one single app, Passbook—installed on all Apple devices running iOS 6, not just the iPhone 5—leverages GPS technology to automatically display the relevant ticket or offer where and when the consumer needs it. National brands including Target, Starbucks, Fandango, Ticketmaster, American Airlines, and Walgreens have already updated their iOS apps with Passbook support, and others like McDonalds are trialing Passbook-enabled services that simplify customer ordering and payment processes.

At the time of this writing, Apple’s App Store offers only about a dozen Passbook-ready applications, but that’s destined to change. Apple has essentially stripped away the complexities and redundancies slowing mobile marketing growth in one fell swoop: Thanks to Passbook, consumers are no longer tasked with managing loyalty cards and customer programs scattered across multiple apps—their iPhone even reminds them when they’re at or near a merchant location where they have an offer to redeem.

Cosmetics chain Sephora integrated its iPhone application into Passbook immediately following iOS 6’s launch: After consumers download the Sephora to Go app, a digital version of the company’s Beauty Insider loyalty club card is inserted into the Passbook container. Julie Bornstein, Sephora’s senior vice president of digital, tells Internet Retailer that more than 300,000 consumers downloaded the app in the first five days after Passbook went live.

Sephora loyalty club members can now access their Beauty Insider card in the easiest way possible—accessing their points balance and presenting the pass to earn and redeem points while shopping in store,” Bornstein says. “More than 70 percent of mobile traffic to Sephora comes from iOS devices, so Passbook is a natural fit for Sephora customers. Being part of Passbook also allows recipients of Sephora eGifts a way to easily store, access, and redeem them on their iPhones.”

Given how few Fortune 500 companies have rolled out iOS apps with Passbook support, it’s no surprise that there are no small businesses that have integrated Passbook functionality into their customer-facing apps, either. But Sephora’s success serves as a powerful example of how quickly and decisively Apple has made mobile marketing a truly mainstream proposition. Consumers purchased more than 5 million iPhone 5s in the smartphone’s first three days at retail, and close to half of all iOS devices now run iOS 6, meaning Passbook is already in the hands of hundreds of millions of users worldwide.

As customers become more and more comfortable using the app in big-box retail environments, at airports, and in movie theaters, they’re going to want to use it everywhere they go, meaning small businesses that have previously resisted building their own iOS apps should, at the very least, reconsider that position. You don’t want Passbook to pass your business by.

Posted in: B2C, E-Commerce, Featured, Geolocation, Mobile Advertising, Mobile Development, Mobile Matters

About the Writer:

Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of the FierceMobileContent and FierceDeveloper e-newsletters as well as a regular contributor to Entrepreneur magazine and the website All Music Guide. Additional credits include efforts for publications including Rolling Stone, Wax Poetics and No Depression, along with liner notes for a number of album releases. He lives in Chicago.

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