New Battery-Powered Credit Card Offers Bizarre Menagerie of Rewards

Would you rather have a standard plastic credit card with an awesome rewards scheme or an advanced robotic credit card that has lame rewards? That may sound like the kind of thing bankers ask one another at cocktail parties, but this is exactly the dilemma many consumers will find themselves facing this week with the launch of Dynamic Inc.’s new ePlate credit card.

As far as technology goes, the ePlate Visa card is the coolest gadget to hit the market since the smart phone. We should know, because we’ve been following the card’s development since Dynamics Inc. first introduced it at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January.

The plastic card contains 70 electronic components that power a customizable rewards program the likes of which has never been seen before. Users select which rewards schemes – dubbed “experiences” – that they want their purchases to count toward by pressing one of two illuminated buttons on the card face. An advanced magnetic stripe instantly transmits that data to the cardholder’s experience database, allowing rewards to be redeemed the moment they’re earned.

Pretty neat, huh?

Dynamics Inc. founder and CEO Jeff Mullen certainly thinks so. “You could leave a restaurant with your spouse after an $80 dinner and get an email … with a brand-new song from (country star) Katie Armiger on your mobile device to listen to on the way home,” he said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Unfortunately, when it comes to earning rewards on the ePlate, a song from a B-list country crooner is about as good as it gets, at least for the time being. In the “ecosystem of experiences” that Dynamics has created for its new product, useful rewards like discounts on gas or groceries are nowhere to be found. Instead, consumers have to settle for earning credits towards merchandise from a somewhat random group of experience providers including Dark Horse Comics, Upper Deck trading cards and a Salsa of the Month club.

The rewards these experiences offer are almost restrictively specific. If you choose Dark Horse as your experience provider, then every $25 you spend will unlock a page from one of two exclusive comics. Choose “The War of the Roses” author Warren Adler and you’ll get one of his 29 eBooks for every $400 you spend. Once you collect all 29 eBooks, you will receive a signed physical copy of “The War of the Roses” in the mail.

For fans of comic books and Warren Adler, that may sound pretty good. But these rewards don’t hold much value for average consumers who simply want discounts on everyday purchases.

In time, that will change. The ability to instantly redeem rewards is sure to be a hit with consumers, and this in turn will attract bigger merchants, like grocery chains, to Dynamics’ stable of experience providers. “People will go out at 2 a.m. to buy something from 7-Eleven because they want to get to the next level in a game,” said Mullen in an interview with the Post-Gazette. “Instant gratification is one of the Holy Grails of what we’re doing.”

At the moment, though, the best rewards are still found on standard credit cards. So unless you’re desperate to get a card that you can use to impress people at parties, it’s best to wait a few months before you sign up for your own ePlate. Though the technology has certainly arrived, the financial incentives to ditch your old card aren’t quite there yet.