SCVNGR Goes Live with Rewards for Boston Businesses, Eyes Potential Partners

I’m getting the sense that Seth Priebatsch could sell just about anything—and he will. His mobile gaming and rewards startup, Cambridge, MA-based SCVNGR, has been in PR overdrive for the past week, announcing everything from its integration with Facebook Places to new rewards partnerships with AT&T and Zipcar.

Today, the company is showcasing a new software platform for local businesses to build their own rewards programs. The program is launching with 50-plus stores in the Boston area (you can zoom in on the map here to see the initial participants), and will be looking to expand to other cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco in the future.

At Toscanini’s in Cambridge, for example (the program’s only ice cream shop so far), you can log in on SCVNGR and enter the ingredients you’d want to use to create a new flavor, and earn a free scoop of ice cream. At the Middle East restaurant and club, you can snap a photo of the band on stage and work towards earning 20 percent off your meal there.

We first wrote about this program last week, after the announcement of Facebook Places shook the world of location-based games and services. Priebatsch tells me that new user registrations increased by 210 percent after his company’s Facebook integration, and continue to grow. But what’s really interesting about today’s SCVNGR rewards rollout is where it could be heading next.

“Overnight we’re going to take over a city,” Priebatch says.

If this rollout works, he argues, it will “fundamentally change the way businesses think” about using mobile and social technologies to help drive sales. Unlike Foursquare’s check-in service, he says, SCVNGR operates on a “progression dynamic” (where anyone can earn rewards) and not an “exclusion dynamic” (where only one “mayor” earns a reward).

What’s more—and this caught my attention—SCVNGR sees itself as very complementary to the group-buying and daily-deal sites that have exploded in the past year or so. “Groupon can send a thousand new customers to a store,” Priebatsch says. “That’s incredibly powerful, but it doesn’t really build loyalty and engagement.” Which is where SCVNGR could come in, he says. “If you [a local business] are using Groupon, BuyWithMe, or LivingSocial, you want to pair that with getting them to play SCVNGR,” Priebatsch says. “You want to capture that traffic, and then get them to come back.”

He admits that local, small businesses don’t have as much cash to spend as the corporations, universities, and city governments that make up the bulk of SCVNGR’s revenue stream. But, he says, “The hope is to turn this into a really solid top-line revenue driver for us.”

SCVNGR started in 2008, and has received venture financing from Highland Capital Partners, Google Ventures, Bantam Group, and DreamIT Ventures. Its mobile app is available for free on the iPhone or Android phones.

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