Communitech May 9, 2014 By Samantha Clark
We’ve all been there. Standing in front of a daunting wall of greeting cards, you begin to play a game of chance. You eagerly pick one up, speed-read it and decide the message isn’t right for the recipient – too sappy, too fake or too funny.
You jam it back into its slot and the game continues. When you finally find the perfect one, you flip it over only to be discouraged by the outrageous price glaring back at you. You tell yourself it’s the thought that counts and grudgingly buy it.
Imagine skipping all of that and being able to personalize a greeting card or gift tag with your own unique message, quickly, easily and affordably.
University of Waterloo graduates Rachel Huang, Peter Chen and Collin Zhang have come up with exactly that with their startup, TagTalk. They make gift tags that look just like conventional ones, but with near field communication (NFC) chips inside, which you can load with photos, video, audio or anything else to personalize your greetings.
The recipient can then retrieve the greeting by simply tapping their NFC-equipped smartphone against the tag.
This simple tag has the potential to bring big changes to the greeting card market.
“We will be the problem solver,” said Huang, explaining the concept behind the “world’s first gift tag with craft designs.”
After buying the gift tag, it is activation-ready for the sender to personalize. There are multiple ways to activate the tag, including scanning the quick response (QR) code on the back with your smartphone, or typing in its serial number on the TagTalk website using your mobile browser.
But the most convenient way is to simply use the NFC tap. If it’s a new tag, it will take you to the TagTalk app editing screen where you will be able to add whatever multimedia you’d like. That content is stored in the chip and can be reviewed over and over again when the recipient taps their smartphone to the tag.
The process is unique in that the recipient does not need to have the TagTalk app installed on their phone. When tapped with an NFC-enabled phone, or scanned with the phone’s QR code reader, the content automatically plays in the phone’s browser.
The idea came to the TagTalk team after they worked on a project as they finished up their studies at UW last year.
“We were thinking of other NFC-related ideas, and last Christmas I came up with this idea after seeing somebody sending a postcard,” Chen explained. “I asked myself, why not combine NFC with a traditional postcard or greeting card?”
Since December, the team has developed hand-made prototypes at home that could pass for commercial products.
In order to move past the prototype phase and begin mass production, TagTalk must gain enough pledges through their Kickstarter campaign, which closes May 15. So far, they have reached close to $7,000 of their $15,000 goal.
They are selling 12 exclusive and original designs in a series of packs through Kickstarter. For instance, for $15 you can own a set of three tags, $25 gets you six, and for $35 you can own all 12 tags.
“Some people ask us ‘why do you want to do this?’ said Chen, explaining that people today are used to the fast and easy e-cards or a simple Facebook wall post. “Our answer to them is that while those things may come easy, they are gone easy; you don’t try to preserve them. So that’s the purpose for designing these long-lasting tokens, so that whenever people want to, they can retrieve it and review it.”
Huang pointed out that the tags will act as a call-to-action or takeaway, especially when senders are looking for the keepsake appeal. “I know for things like wedding invitations people will give out something like a refrigerator magnet and put their invitation in that form so that it’s a souvenir for the guest,” she said.
The future of TagTalk includes creating a full-service smartphone app that will integrate the user’s mobile contacts and Facebook and LinkedIn notifications to flag when occasions like birthdays and anniversaries are coming up. The notification will have the option of creating and buying a gift tag or greeting card straight from the app, and TagTalk will ship it directly to the recipient.
“If you look at our app as of today, we have this activation page where people start editing by activating the tag, which would mean you have to get it first. So our vision in the future is that we can skip this step, saving people a lot of hassle,” said Chen.
The entire process can be done in a few minutes and for only a couple dollars, which the TagTalk team sees as an advantage over more costly traditional greeting cards.
And the market is huge. With about 6.5 billion greeting cards bought each year in North America, retail sales average around $8 billion.
Beyond seeing the market potential, the team plans to collaborate with artists to give the tags a collectible appeal. This is something Chen pointed out as a strategic marketing advantage, as the tags feature creative, original designs.
“We are the first one to tackle this problem using the combination of NFC and QR code, and also in this perspective that these are cute, adorable and collectible tags.”