Traditionally, the cost of software applications or services to run successful customer loyalty programs has eluded many small-business owners.
So this is one trend they will really welcome during 2013 – the intersection between customer relationship management and mobile payments.
I have been literally deluged with information about mobile payment options in recent weeks. Very quickly, I noticed a common thread – many of these services include customer relationship management features and marketing modules that enable small business owners to customize or personalize offers for repeat customers – or people that would like to encourage to become repeat customers.
The Swipely service I wrote about just one week ago, is a great example of this. It includes just enough analytics that merchants – quick-service operations, restaurants and boutique stores – can offer loyalty benefits.
Another solution to watch closely is the one being developed by CARDFREE.
The San Francisco-based startup, which is developing a full-fledged mobile merchant platform, is led by an executive team that has past ties to the mobile development and commerce efforts for both Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks. It closed $10 million in Series A funding in November 2012.
4 Loyalty Services Targeted at Small Businesses
What if you're happy with your existing payment platform and are simply looking to a better way to develop a loyalty program?
I've recently come across four companies that are worth some attention. I'm listing them here in alphabetical order.
Affinity Solutions – Launched in April 2012, the service enables small restaurants and merchants to generate and manage "card-linked offers." These are promotions that use information about a customer's past spending with that card to create discounts or offers that might capture your attention. The offers are attached to the card, so they can be redeemed relatively easily.
When I spoke with Affinity's CEO Jonathan Silver earlier this fall, the company had just signed its 25,000 retailer – a regional restaurant company called Pieroguys Pierogies from Kansas City, Missouri. "Our partnership with Affiinity Solutions is an excellent vehicle to drive new legions of Pieroguys fans," said Frank Gazella, co-founder and CEO. "Their approach is also in strong alignment with our integrated marketing strategy, which leans heavily on social media and other digital marketing channels to connect with our supporters."
Belly - Since it launched in August 2011, mobile loyalty technology provider Belly has signed up more than 4,000 merchants across 35 states. The company pitches its service as a replacement for paper punch cards that small retailers often use to keep track of customer visits. Customers can either use a card (one that works with multiple merchants) or download a mobile app that tracks their purchase and the points they are earning. The company is backed with $12.5 million in funding; one of its high-profile backers is Andreessen Horowitch. The company has a regional focus. So far, its in New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco; it's working on Denver, Portland and Seattle.
Perka – Another company explicitly focused on enabling small businesses, Perka is focused on mobile marketing and loyalty services. It currently works with about 500 businesses across the United States. In mid-December, the developer launched a new service called Perka Flexpoints, a mobile app that is meant as a punchcard replacement. Flexpoints links more closely to the customer's actual purchases. It runs $50 per month per locations. A screen capture of the management dashboard is below.
RewardLoop – Still at the private beta state, this is a mobile loyalty platform that can connect into about 85 percent of the existing point-of-sale systems on the market today, according to the company's Web site. The software is also enabled for near-field communications (so it won't be obsoleted as that technology emerges). The company received $1 million in Series A funding in May 2012. The application integrates directly with the Constant Contact integrated marketing service.
One of its beta customers, an independent coffee shop in Vancouver, B.C., now generates at least 23 percent of its daily transactions from customers that use the system. It took just three months to build up to that point, according to a case study about the account. A complete infographic about the results there is embedded below.