In my wallet, I have two customer rewards/loyalty cards for local businesses: a paper one that tracks how many times I've been to the car wash (only on weekdays though!), and an electronic one that logs how much I have spent at the nail salon (it hasn't seen the light of day more than a year!)
But the one that I use the most is actually on my smartphone, a mobile app that checks me in during my visits to the hairdresser. (I won't say which one, but the technology is from one of the companies that I'll list in a moment.)
When I first downloaded that app last year, it was mainly out of curiosity: I was surprised that my otherwise technophobic stylist was digitizing client promotions and marketing in this manner. Mainly I use it just for this one business, but lately, I've noticed other merchants from my small New Jersey town showing up in the directory and I've done some research about them. When I glanced at the interface just now for inspiration, it offered up a whole different list of nearby businesses based on the GPS reading on my iPhone.
The fact is, though, it makes more sense than ever for small retailers, merchants and restaurants to consider digitizing or mobilizing their loyalty systems.
After all, pieces of paper are pretty one-dimensional not to mention easy to lose or tear. By taking rewards electronic, it's possible for a small-business owner to simultaneously acknowledge their repeat customers and also to track in more detail the sorts of services they typically buy, the time of day they usually visit and how much money they are likely to spend.
With that in mind, I decided to update a blog I posted in December 2012, "4 loyalty program services tailored for small businesses." Here is what is going on 13 months later, both with some of the companies I mentioned in that original article along with several others I've come across that gained a larger following during 2013. I've purposely focused on those that prioritize the use of mobile apps as part of the relationship building process and that a big emphasis on small businesses.
Belly – When I last checked up on Belly, it had signed up more than 4,000 merchants across 35 states for its mobile app replacement alternative (either Apple iOS or Android) for paper punch cards. Now, the service is being used by 6,000 local businesses, and it has tracked more than 15 million visits. Notable features include Passbook location alerts, email campaigns, integration with Facebook and Twitter integration, and analytics (with the premium accounts). Pricing ranges from $79 per month for the basic "Snack" plan with a Nexus 7 tablet to $149 for the "Feast" including all the services and an iPad Mini for your retail location.
Foursquare – Technically, the Foursquare service isn't a loyalty app. But it can absolutely help with engaging customers or would-be customers who have checked-in at your location. Its reach is almost overwhelming, which more than 45 million "community" members and more than 1.6 million businesses using the merchant platform. It uses an advertising model; your business pays only if someone acts on it (by tapping on it to see more details).
Front Flip – One of the coolest features of this rewards system is integration with social networks, which lets customers "boast" about the promotions they received from your business or even share them with friends (as appropriate). Like the other services, the company offers analytics so you can glean more customer insights from tracked visit data. The company doesn't publish its pricing data. As of early last year, it had raised a total of $7.7 million in funding; it has a big following among McDonald's franchise owners.
GetOne Rewards – Earlier this month, this company secured its Series B capital round, raising more than $2.5 million. (The lead investors are Fulcrum Growth Fund II and Milestone Venture Partners.) GetOne Rewards was first introduced in the Atlanta market, and there's still limited information available about it (including the pricing model). Another difference: while there are apps for Apple iOS and Android, all the customer needs to do at the point of sale (POS) is type in their phone number on an iPad tablet. Like the other systems, the service boasts campaign management and analytics capabilities.
Perka – The Perka service is slightly different from the other offerings in that it is designed to reward actual transactions, not just check-ins. Customers get personalized credit: cashiers or store personnel register their name. There are Android and Apple iOS mobile apps for them to manage their accounts, but Perka also used SMS text messages so that people with older phones can be included in promotions and rewards offers. The service starts at $35 per month.
RewardLoop – This service plugs into a vast majority of the existing POS systems, using a special printer to generate and print rewards represented as a QR code on a register receipt. The symbols can be scanned to add points to a customer's account. Technically the service is listed as being in private beta (which the state it was in a year ago.) The base offering is $40 per month, plus another $20 per month for the POS printer adapter, and $150 for the setup and configuration.
SpotOn –This program uses both plastic loyalty cards and mobile apps for Android or Apple iOS. Customers using the mobile apps record their visits by scanning a QR code on their smartphone at the merchant's check-in tablet. (The service also integrates with Passbook to register "Spot" visits.) Right now, SpotOn is in about a dozen markets including San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Miami, San Antonio, Cleveland and Louisville, Kentucky. "Many people want to shop locally and this provides engagement opportunities," said Matt Hyman, co-founder of the company. The service is $60 per month, which covers an unlimited number of transactions; there are no per-card transaction fees (some other programs charge 25 cents to 30 cents for every transaction involving a plastic card).