Facebook's got a gift card - for your actual wallet

The “Facebook Card” – don’t leave home without it?

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg warned investors Wednesday that they shouldn’t expect to see a lot of revenue in the near future from new Facebook efforts around on-line retailing and other activities outside its core advertising business. But on Thursday, the company showed it is continuing to test new retail programs, by announcing it will offer a new “Facebook Card” – the physical kind of card that you carry in your wallet.

The new program has an on-line component, of course, as an adjunct to the Facebook Gifts program the company announced a few months back. That program lets Facebook users order a variety of real-world items – flowers, clothing, cookies – on Facebook and have them delivered to their friends.

Facebook, of course, is hoping to capitalize on the fact that it can remind you of your friends’ birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions. Now it’s offering users the option of essentially giving a store credit as a gift. The program currently allows users to select from among four retailers – Jamba Juice, Olive Garden, Sephora and Target – and decide how much you want to spend on a store credit. A few clicks later, and Facebook will electronically notify your friend about the gift. The card will arrive in your friend’s mail a few days later.

What’s kind of interesting is that you can re-use the card. When friends give you more gifts, Facebook will keep track of your balances with different retailers. But you can’t  pool the balances – so, for example, you can’t apply your $10 balance at Target towards a dinner at Olive Garden.

The card is the latest example of Facebook’s interest in testing out new ways to make revenue from things like online gifts and paid messages or posts. As a business, the card’s potential is uncertain: Facebook said Wednesday that those programs only contributed about $5 million in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2012, although Zuckerberg said they may be significant opportunities in the long-term.

But clearly other online companies are interested in retail, too. Apple’s Passbook  offers some of the same features. So we may hear more about this one.

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (324 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.