Perk: A simple Web browser that rewards online shoppers

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 18, 2013

From The News Desk

Perk has launched a Web browser that looks and acts like Chrome, and is built on the same open source project, but is more than just a copycat with a sexier icon. It's the latest entrant into the loyalty market, which promises rewards for spending your riches, and it's betting that the decidedly un-chic desktop browser is the best launchpad for such a service.

Perk seeks to differentiate itself from your standard issue Web browser by adding a "loyalty layer" to the Web and giving users "reward points" for shopping at one of its retail partners or searching the Web. These points can be redeemed to purchase products, like an iPad, or for the right to participate in smaller raffles that offer prizes like a $10 Starbucks gift card or $100 in "PayPal cash."

Points currently take 90 days to become "active," a safeguard against those who would try to game the system by purchasing a large item, reaping the reward points, then returning it to the store. The company says that it is looking at ways to reward frequent shoppers with shorter wait periods, but, at least for now, the 90 day waiting period is the norm.

Anyone familiar with Chrome should be able to find his way around Perk; the only real differences are a result of Perk's focus on shopping, which changes the "New Tab" page into a shopping and rewards portal and adds a button to the browser bar that alerts users when they earn points. Perk also displays partner sites in the browser bar while users are entering a URL, making them aware of sites they may have otherwise missed in a subtle, respectful manner.

Perk is a lot like Shopkick, a mobile application and service that rewards users for visiting stores and accruing "kicks." Both purport to reward users for the things they're already doing, both seek to fade into the background and only become noticeable once users are ready for their rewards. Both are essentially meta-advertisements that reinforce always-be-shopping behavior.

Many companies seek to answer the "why" question. Why would I want to use this instead of some other thing? Why would I spend time with this service? And so on. Perk, Shopkick, and other loyalty plays instead seek to answer the "why not" question. Why not earn rewards for shopping -- or even just looking -- at a store? Why not do the things you're already doing and win prizes for it?

Answering those questions seems easy enough. Consumers may as well use Perk, if they're going to be shopping anyway. But the company faces the same difficulties other "why not" companies face: getting that first download. Using Perk to browse the Web is fine; it didn't seem to be slower than Chrome, didn't crash during my testing, and, beyond the "New Tab" page and the other stuff I mentioned above, is basically just a good Web browser.

It doesn't help that Perk is currently desktop-only, either, though the company says that it plans to release mobile applications next quarter. And it certainly doesn't help that Amazon, perhaps the largest player in ecommerce, doesn't offer rewards through Perk -- which, again, the company says it's working on.

If consumers are willing to live with those compromises to get rewarded for browsing the Web and purchasing items from other retailers, I can't think of a good reason not to use Perk. But if those same people prefer to shop via mobile or do all of their shopping through Amazon, there isn't much Perk has to offer. It's simply a good Web browser that seeks to be more than just a window to the rest of the Web.