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Target Unwraps Bar-Code System for Gift Cards

Target Corp. customers can now store gift card account data electronically and make payments at the point of sale with mobile phones.

"Mobile devices are becoming a key part of our guests' lives, and we wanted to make their lives easier," Sara Moore, a Target spokeswoman, said in an interview Tuesday.

With the Minneapolis retailer's Mobile GiftCard service, announced Tuesday, consumers use a phone's browser to access Target's Web site, where they may create a PIN-protected account and enroll their gift cards.

The site can store details on multiple cards, and users can select different cards for each transaction. People can also manage their gift cards through the mobile service.

When they want to make a purchase, they access the site, log in and decide which enrolled card they want to use.

The site then creates a bar code that is displayed on the phone's screen, and a Target employee can scan the design to initiate the transaction.

The service is similar to one that Starbucks Corp. has been testing since September at 16 of its coffee shops in Silicon Valley and Seattle, though that system uses an application for Apple Inc.'s popular iPhone handset.

Moore said the Target service works on any mobile phone with a browser and can be used now to make purchases at all of the company's 1,740 stores in the United States.

"Target is the first major retailer with the ability to scan mobile bar codes in all of its stores," the company said in a press release Tuesday.

Target tested the technology last month with employees, including Moore. "I thought it was a neat technology," she said, and the functions were easy to access while shopping.

Several payments companies have long touted the idea of turning mobile phones into digital wallets that can store multiple credit and debit card accounts and be used to initiate purchases at the point of sale.

However, the idea most often discussed is near-field communication chips, the same technology that is used in contactless cards.

Adding NFC components to phones would enabling people to initiate contactless payments by waving their phone near a reader.

That idea has been widely tested all over the world but is not yet commercially available. In the meantime alternative concepts such as mobile bar codes are catching on.

The Starbucks bar-code system uses software from mFoundry Inc.; Moore did not know if Target has collaborated with a payments technology vendor or developed the system internally.

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