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Gift cards go social and mobile

July 31, 2012|By Leonor Vivanco, RedEye

For your friend's birthday, you don't want to buy a lame gift card but you want to do more than just write a message on his Facebook wall.

Local startup Boomerang launched Tuesday in Chicago as a social gifting platform tapping into the $100 billion gift card industry to help people give more personalized gift cards that can be delivered quickly and redeemed conveniently at local businesses. Lightbank, the investment fund behind Groupon, invested about $1 million into Boomerang, said founder Zach Smith, 25, of River North.

“People give gifts every day. It’s a massive space and there’s some very old ways of doing this that involve shipping and mailing and physical plastic cards, which take time, and it’s bad for the environment,” he said.

Here's how it works: Users go to rang.com and log on through Facebook. The site goes through the user’s social network and finds gift-giving events happening in their friend’s lives, Smith explained.

The site monitors updates friends make to their profiles, and users get a weekly email about important events about their friends so they won’t miss birthdays, promotions, anniversaries or baby news.

When the user clicks on a friend, a number of local gift packages pop up from 40 Chicago businesses ranging from spas to restaurants at varying price levels with some even offering a freebie such as a slice of pizza or an item that is of marginal cost to the business. Users also have the option of giving a charitable gift in honor of their friend to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The paperless gift gets delivered through Facebook, appears on the friend’s wall and can be redeemed by clicking on a link on their mobile phone, Smith said.

“When they see their friend had great day, instead of just writing on their wall, (clicking) like or thumbs up or ‘Hey this is awesome,’ attach a gift to it,” Smith said. “It might not cost you anything, might cost you $5, and probably it’s something you guys can go do together.”

lvivanco@tribune.com | @lvivanco

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