A while ago, I got tired of fishing through my wallet for any of the myriad rewards program cards that I have. I also started leaving them at home to prevent my wallet from turning into a meatball in my pocket. That got me thinking: Wouldn't it be great to have just one card to carry around with you?
I started sketching out architecture diagrams - a central repository where all memberships would be registered and tied back to original membership numbers, a card with a handful of barcodes on it for the most common formats, a data mine that could be shared across vendors... I still think it's a great idea. On the back end, you can not only determine a members grocery buying habits, but pair their preference in ice cream with a taste in movies. If butter pecan lovers tend to also like Charles Bronson movies, you can offer them a deal on Death Wish when they buy their Edy's.
The thing that slowed me down was the complexity of negotiations. I think working out the technical details would be fairly easy compared to getting companies to share their data, especially given that some of the other member companies would be competitors. The other thing I was overlooking was that the germ of the idea was to provide convenience to the end user.
Along comes CardStar [app store] with a different approach. Rather than go through gyrations on the back end, they took the approach of creating a virtual pocket meatball to hold all your barcodes. The process is really simple: After you install the app, you click + to add a new card, select a category, locate the vendor, and type in your membership number. That's it.
I tested it out at a few stores and it worked like a charm. The only issue is that the list of vendors covers national retailers, but I have some cards for more local establishments. The software allows you to create custom barcodes, but it would take some research to figure out which protocol is used at each store.
All in all, it's a great app and has already cleaned up my keychain and thinned out my wallet. Best of all, it sets you back $zero, so the price can't be beat.