there’s an app for that too!

Posted by anya on December 28th, 2009 filed in Uncategorized

Today, I was reading this piece about the CauseWorld app that’s being launched by a company called Shopkick. The basic premise is that every time you go into a certain store and “check in”, you collect “karma points” that will eventually be donated to a charity of your choice by participating businesses. TechCrunch hails this as a brilliant business plan and as a wonderful incentive for corporations to donate to charity, and judging from the comments, a lot of people are equally impressed. I wonder, though, whether there is something a little sinister about this brilliant new business model. I’ll have to wait and see more about how the app works, but for now it seems like it’s a very smart way to steer consumer spending habits into a particular direction. I can see how this is incredibly lucrative for a company like Kraft that produces mass quantities of highly processed, inexpensive food. But it will come as no surprise if the retailers Kraft pairs with will mostly end up being big superstores that carry a wide variety of their products. I don’t know what the overall effect on small, independent grocery stores will be. And then there are farmers’ markets and smaller companies that may not have the ability to form partnerships with Shopkick the way big businesses can.  Even though the smaller guys may not be donating as much to charity, there is a (higher?) chance that their overall business practices are more sustainable, and thus buying their products may actually make more of a difference than charity donations can. Charity is good and necessary, but it’s also a middle man whose success lies partly with the growth of companies that are in no way pressured to change traditional behaviors.

One other thing that irks me about this new app is how checking into a store earns one ‘karma points’. It comes down to the basic idea that consumers can feel good about themselves without actually changing any of their habits or decreasing consumption. The idea of karma has been co-opted by big business ((Red), anyone?). This isn’t very surprising, given that the resilience of capitalism is due largely to its ability to adapt (co-opting is one of the best ways of adapting!). I suppose I’m just annoyed because I keep seeing the possibilities of doing things differently being eclipsed. I would love to see more businesses working under a co-operative model, where decisions would be made with a little more democracy. I know that companies like Apple or Citi are very unlikely to move towards this, and they’re the ones that are most likely to collaborate with Shopkick. As longs as consumers can pat themselves on the back every once in a while, they don’t actually have to question corporate structures and decisions. To me, actively participating in something like Sourcemap is potentially a lot more constructive.

Or, I don’t know, am I being too harsh on CauseWorld? Is this a way of just dealing with the realities of capitalism in a really creative way? Is this something that those of you with Smart Phones will use? I find the “status update”-y bits a bit cheezy (ex: “Red Helped prevent child abuse”).

Who knows though, I’ve been accused before of being both self-congratulatory and a hypocrite. Maybe I’d be all over this if I had an iPhone (more on this whole phone thing in another post).

One Response to “there’s an app for that too!”

  1. Jenny Arriola Says:

    Interesting post- you give us some things to think about. One quick note though- you can earn karmas at all stores- no one is excluded. Also, the app helps expand the good the average consumer can do- sure it’s not a dramatic lifestyle change, but every little bit helps, right?

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