MasterCard Inc. is trying to reach the small but growing number of people who might be ready for mobile payments by sending them time-sensitive offers that can help them save money and become more comfortable using their phones to make purchases.

The company's Overwhelming Offers iPhone application "is the virtual equivalent of a Black Friday sale where after Thanksgiving you rush to the store to get the deep discounts," said Andrea Gilman, a senior business leader for MasterCard. "Now you can get that discount on the mobile phone."

The app was introduced in July, and the Purchase, N.Y., payments company expanded its capabilities in August with its Reserved by MasterCard program to deliver unique offers for cardholders in New York City.

Users access Overwhelming Offers through MasterCard's mobile MarketPlace, a personalized shopping platform. The Overwhelming Offer goes out each weekday at noon, Eastern time, and is discounted (usually about 50% from a partner retailer) for a limited time and quantity; users must reserve each purchase, and so far most offers are selling out. Examples include $100 discounts for digital cameras and $100 gift certificates that are sold for $50.

MasterCard developed Overwhelming Offers in partnership with Next Jump, a provider of e-commerce and advertising technology that can optimize targeted marketing campaigns.

Next Jump's database analyzes retail data culled from more than 30,000 merchants, 90,000 corporate customers and 100 million users.

"Mobile payments themselves are a commodity. What's needed is some form of incentive," said Red Gillen, a senior analyst at Celent.

An outgrowth of a similar Internet product, Overwhelming Offers is available on both Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPad — MasterCard has not discussed plans to offer the service on other devices. Gilman says the goal is to increase overall card use, which will benefit its issuing partners.

MasterCard is hoping to gain share in a domestic market in which the sale of devices through mobile phones is expected to reach $2.2 billion in 2010, up from $1.2 billion in 2009, according to ABI Research.

Analysts say that as real-time transaction reporting and location tracking expands, card companies will be able to offer notifications steered by a consumer's current (or very recent) location and nearby retailers.

"The payment network knows where the consumer is, based on charge transactions and communications with the customer," said James Van Dyke, the president of Javelin Strategy and Research.

Emmett Higdon, a senior analyst at Forrester, says further benefits are possible by making the app more localized, based on consumer location.

"You get an overwhelming offer in the store that says a product is on sale for the next hour. That takes this concept to a whole new level," Higdon says.

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