Special to Flip by Katherine Loh
I was sitting at a local coffee shop when I witnessed a rather common, but painful situation.
The cashier handed a gentleman his credit card after he swiped his $8 total for two. As he and his friend take a seat, the customer behind him asks the cashier where she could scan her mobile rewards application. The cashier points to the glowing 10-inch tablet off to the side; the customer aligns her smartphone to a colorful barcode on the tablet. Her $9 drink total for her and her kids magically changes to a $4.50 value.
At this point, the first customer is probably thinking his wallet is suddenly feeling tremendously lighter as he looks down at his iPhone 4s, heavy with regret. What did that customer just scan? How did she get such a terrific deal?
What may seem like another random mobile app was actually the solution behind a digital customer loyalty rewards system that has revolutionized the relationship between merchants and customers. These solutions are better known as startup mobile apps like Pirq and Bellycard.
Dividing the responsibility of customer frequency between the merchant and mobile startups makes for a win-win situation. While restaurant owners benefit from customer loyalty when users redeem 25% or 50% off their meals, mobile apps such as these conquer the future of digital reward systems. These reward programs are changing the way customers are interacting with their favorite retail and restaurant merchants by increasing business transactions and utilizing public deals.
As the marketing intern for Pirq, a start-up smartphone app that provides its users with a digitalized punch card and public deals to earn rewards at local businesses, I am a part of this generation’s transition into the mobile sphere.
Pirq, a play on the word “perk”, is a discount deals mobile app that has completely “digitalized” the punch card system to provide a solution for customer frequency issues that many local merchants face.
James Sun, founder and CEO of Pirq, came up with the idea when he became concerned about slow business at his parents’ small pizza shop. He calls his solution a “match made in heaven”.
“It was frustrating when it got slow and you didn’t know what you could do to increase business,” Sun said. “Because we have smart phones…a business is willing to give a discount to the right customer at the right time.”
If the relationship develops, then you know you have a good model.
“A lot of this has to do with personalizing the experience for the consumer on the device”, said Bill Chi, Pirq’s Chief Technology Officer. “I think contextual computing is the future and that it is not just this form factor for mobile but it’s the form factor across every type of external piece of technology that you carry with you everywhere you go.”
With Pirq, users are given the ability to redeem an offer at a business or reserve the deal for later, sometimes amounting up to 50% off the subtotal. Unlike Pirq, Bellycard has expanded to more than just local Chicago-based merchants and has traffic in locations all over the US.
What is unique about Bellycard is that they customize their rewards in fun and unique ways depending on the merchant. For example, “You can arm wrestle a sandwich restaurant owner or ride along in a food truck that will let its best customers “egg” the truck as it drives by” as stated by Leena Rao at Techcrunch.
Pirq and Bellycard differ from sites like Groupon and Living Social because they spend less time focusing on customer loyalty and more time on finding the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’.
“Groupon does mass-market push with their emails but they crush your business because tons of people come in during the same hours and only one cashier is there to manage it,” said Kaitlin Sandblom, Pirq’s Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator.
When asked what could be improved with customer loyalty apps, Christine Ngo, Pirq user and junior at the University of Washington, said that she wished they would implement push notifications.
“For example, an alert once a day in the morning gives people more incentive to check it,” Ngo said.
However, Sun is way ahead of her.
“For consumers, they can expect more personalized deals,” Sun said. “So if they’re driving around, Pirq will be able to alert them and send them an instant message or alert that says ‘Hey, this vendor is willing to offer you a public deal’ based on your preferences.’”
Customer loyalty apps are blending the relationship between merchants and their loyal customers by revolutionizing the access to technological purchases. This ensures that next time, your barista will remember your non-fat caramel macchiato, extra hot.