Tim Stringer recently brought the iPhone App CardStar to my attention. It made me think about widespread, stale reward programs that are offered in what seems like every retail store. If Groupon has proven anything in the past year, it is that now more than ever, brick-and-mortar businesses are primed and finally ready to become ingrained in the web.
Lead Up: Virtual Loyalty Programs
From the perspective of a merchant, loyalty programs are not about rewarding customers, they’re about the cost of customer acquisition, branding, and intangible encouragement. Retailers benefit from having their logo, contact information and reminder of your positive shopping experiences in your wallet or on your keychain.
I remember coming up with the idea that CardStar has implemented years ago. It’s a straightforward, useful concept. Simply save the barcode that is contained on the plastic card from each of the loyalty programs that you belong to in a mobile application. Whenever you would like to collect points, load the barcode on your mobile device and hand it to the cashier.
After running a few tests, I came to the same conclusion that Tim did in his review of CardStar. Mobile device screens can not be reliably read by in-store scanners. I tried contrast adjustments, changing the size of the barcodes, and even contacted UPC overlord GIS to discuss their experience with “Virtual UPC Codes”. In the end, the con’s outweighed the pro’s.
Idea: Loyalty Stickers
This idea does not involve any programming. It’s not a web service and doesn’t rely on the Internet, online communities, or even mobile application development at all.
Reward and Loyalty programs need to make stickers. They should be durable (high quality vinyl) and creatively designed. Consumers would place these stickers on the back of their mobile devices. Rather than withdrawing a card from their pocket or purse, the customer would simply scan their barcoded sticker.
Not only would it be convenient for consumers to have a sticker or two from their favourite stores, but a cool looking sticker would become a “badge of honour” for dedicated customers.
For merchants, it would be valuable for their sticker to be on the back of a device that is carried with someone all of the time. The untapped real estate on the back of mobile devices is unique. When the consumer is talking on the phone, the back of the phone is exposed to everyone around them. When the device is not in use, mobile devices can be found near by on desks and on countertops. Traditional cards however, are usually hidden in a closed wallet.
After considering how easy to use and prevalent these loyalty program stickers are, extending their use would be interesting and fun. Imagine logging into the reward program website and being able to select custom stickers? Savvy brand executives know that allowing consumers to customize their brand increases engagement. Beyond simple customization, imagine playing a mobile app powered game based around these stickers. People could be encouraged place a sticker on their phone in order to win spot prizes or better yet, encourage conversation across social networks.