Can fintech impact small business loyalty programs?


Data, data everywhere but not an insight in sight.

For a small business owner, life must feel a little like this, as more and more cloud based tools deliver yet more and more data, all patiently waiting to be crunched, analyzed and pored over late at night.

For the small business owner, joining together disparate data points is one of the hurdles that must be overcome in order to get a true picture of the business financials. Bank feeds into cloud accounting is creating greater clarity on this, connecting what were once separate worlds. There are a number of interesting reporting tools that are probably worthy of a separate post.

But what about the financial data linked to customer purchasing behavior – connecting the dots between how customers pay, what they buy and ultimately why they spend? For physical retail environments – where the bulk of payments are still conducted – this is still difficult, relying for the most part on clunky plastic loyalty cards, not to mention staff remembering to ask for them.

Apple Pay has solved this relatively elegantly for large retailers, integrating big name loyalty programs with its Wallet app last November. Apple can now link person (Apple ID) to card type (did I use my Amex or my Visa?) to purchase (shampoo, coffee, t-shirt).

Shift down the market to small business, and you have US  companies FiveStars and Bellycard layering marketing analytics onto spend data. In Australia, Rewardle does the same.  All deliver ‘small data’ and actionable insights to business owners.  For example, ‘today it’s hot and coffee sales will drop – send a push notification to your loyalty holders inviting them for a discounted iced tea’. It’s all about real-time insights to drive purchasing behavior, rather than heavyweight reports and data feeds.

The rise of mobile wallets linked to loyalty programs also starts to provide interesting opportunities for loyalty members who want to ‘shop around’ their points. Fancy a coffee at Starbucks? Trade some of your Walgreens points for a tall vanilla latte with another loyalty cardholder. Moving city and want to sell your points to your neighbour? Sell them in the app and turn your loyalty into cash.

What ultimately differentiates mobile wallet platforms, like Apple Pay, from the large portion of the loyalty market, is that most platforms are still locked out of linking a card number to an individual. For Apple, it would appear it is possible for the company to aggregate purchasing behavior for an individual across multiple bricks and mortar stores. In theory, it would also be possible for Apple to measure loyalty penetration across cardholders. It’s hard to think of anyone else at a physical store level that can crunch that sort of data today, besides possibly banks. Building the online and offline picture of a customers shopping habits will soon, for omni-channel small business owners, become just as important as it is to large retailers as well.

Loyalty has always been a fragmented space – no provider seems to have really cracked it. But who knows, maybe more fintech startups will find smart and elegant ways to connect the dots for businesses in the near future.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business.

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