Category Archives: Coupons/Promotions

LevelUp Banks on Smart Watch Adoption for Payments

Phone-based digital payments haven’t really taken off – in part, because they aren’t much easier to use than credit/debt cards. You’ve still got to take them out of your pocket.
The notable exception is the phenomenon of My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program, which now has 10 million Starbucks customers actively using the mobile app, twice the number of a year ago.

But if “wearables” take off – i.e. smart watches and to a lesser extent, glasses – there could be rapid growth. In fact, payments are the most practical smartwatch feature (aside from telling the time.)

LevelUp leader Seth Priebatsch told Marketwatch that has always been his vision. The company currently provides an Android app, which automatically asks users if they’d like to pay by using the App when they are near favorite merchants.

“What we really always dreamed of was being the largest smartwatch payment network,” said Priebatsch, noting that LevelUp already claims 1.5 million smart phone users, who can pay at 14,000 locations. With wearables, the sky is the limit (perhaps).

Seth Preibatsch talks with Mark Fratrik at a recent BIA/Kelsey conference

Twitter Acquires CardSpring; Enters SMB Loyalty and Data Space

Twitter has made a bold move to go beyond advertising by adding performance marketing to its portfolio via the purchase of CardSpring, the San Francisco-based startup. The acquisition price has not been announced. CardSpring had raised $10 Million since its launch in 2011.

One of the big tech challenges in the payments space has been to remake the credit/debit card to a “digital receipt” product that can not only process sales, but also leverage specific SKU information, location and customer behavior to add coupons, loyalty points, events and other ewallet items. That’s the challenge that Netscape Vet Eckart Walther gave himself several years ago in launching CardSpring. The company has been positioned as a value add – some would say “middle man” — to both financial institutions and publishers providing marketing solutions for brands and SMBs.

CardSpring’s ambitious goal has been to enable merchants to write their own promotions; distribute them over CardSpring’s publisher network; and redeem and analyze the deal on their Point of Sales. The service’s “near” real-time analytics can show merchants where their redeemed promotions are coming from and what they bought.

CardSpring first got on the map via a 2012 partnership with payments leader First Data to provide check-in promotions at certain venues. More recently, it has also begun integrating with VeriFone’s POS network to enable developers to build their own card-linked services.

The launch of CardSpring Connect in September, 2013 – described as “Google Analytics for the retail world” was a milestone for the company. Foursquare and MOGL are among the most significant publishers providing CardSpring Connect to at least some of their merchant advertisers. Others include Thanx, Roximity, Moblico and OnStripe.

Twitter’s acquisition of CardSpring makes sense to us as Twitter positions itself as a real time marketing channel, and also a “common carrier” that can work widely across the board with key players in the space. This is consistent with CardSpring’s general positioning. The sale of CardSpring itself also suggests that it has been a difficult effort for an independent company to enlist partners to a middle man solution. It has also been difficult to differentiate itself among several other players providing similar features.

BIA/Kelsey looks deep at the SMB Loyalty and Data Space at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans, with such featured speakers as Groupon’s Dan Roarty, Perka’s Rob Bethge and Mercury Payment’s Randy Clark. You can register here.

Priceline Moves Upscale via $2.6 Billion OpenTable Acquisition

Priceline is sort of like eBay – a company known for its origins in auctions, but more recently focusing on distinct, “buy it now” niches. It has recently fleshed out its core travel brand by moving up the value chain to travel reservations via its acquisition of Kayak. It has also gotten into the “sharing economy” by adding AirBnB-like private listings to its Booking.com brand, which is an international powerhouse.

Today, Priceline added restaurant reservations and search to its stable via the $2.6 Billion purchase of industry leader OpenTable, which works with 31,000 restaurants – mostly high end white table cloth restaurants willing to pay a hefty premium for reservations management and leads to undecided consumers. Open Table is an international leader with strong customer bases in the U.S., U.K.,, Germany, Japan and Mexico.

For Priceline, the most attractive parts of the deal are probably OpenTable’s 15 million, high end, travel-oriented customers; the company’s verified, high quality restaurant reviews; OpenTable’s strong mobile orientation; and its extensive affiliate network with 600+ local and vertical sites, which receive commissions for sending traffic to OpenTable (and accounting for 5-10 percent of OpenTable’s business.) These networks might be extended to include other Priceline properties.

There is probably some disconnect with OpenTable’s high-end customer base and Priceline’s discount set – most OpenTable customers won’t be using Priceline itself. And an effort to extend OpenTable’s feature set with Groupon-like deals proved to be underwhelming (although the company has maintained an extensive and apparently successful “Dining Checques” loyalty program). Many OpenTable customers are also not using the service in travel mode — they are local.

Still, OpenTable customers might use the other services. And the seamless Priceline app experience could also be applied as mobile becomes a paramount factor for all travel services.

A larger question we’d have is the core of OpenTable’s value proposition for restaurants: the reservations management system, which is based on dedicated customer premise equipment (known as The Electronic Reservations Book.) The average ERB using restaurant pays $249 for the service (plus $1.00 per seated diner using the OpenTable system.) But in the age of tablet-based POS and reservations services using WiFI, OpenTable’s proprietary system would seem threatened.

So far, it has held its own against such tablet-oriented companies as UrbanSpoon’s Rez and Groupon‘s Breadcrumb – OpenTable’s base of customers is too strong to quickly turn off. OpenTable itself is preparing for a transition. Yet, it has been developing a Cloud Based program that charge a $2.49 per diner charge.

Structurally, we also ask ourselves whether OpenTable is in a distinct “high end restaurant reservations silo,” where it now sits; or whether it is really part of a developing “food silo” that is based on search and discovery, would also include reviews; restaurant and fastfood delivery (i.e. GrubHub), grocery delivery (Amazon Fresh, Google) and reviews (Yelp.) Priceline might be positioning itself to be in the right of the middle of these conjoining elements. (then again….the new silo might ultimately be oriented more around delivery).

DataSphere: Opportunity in Mobile Advertising for SMBs

The times are a changin’ when it comes to SMB customer acquisition. Non-traditional options – including the use of social media, mobile targeting and promotional calls to action – provide opportunities for SMBs looking to take advantage of shifts in consumer behavior.

Few companies have been as energetic in capturing this shift as much as Seattle-based DataSphere, which has quietly amassed 20,000 SMB accounts, making it one of the largest SMB marketing platforms.

Changing with the times, DataSphere is moving its focus away from buying ad space on local Websites. Instead, it has developed a set of services based on mobile ad networks, which can target customers on a geotargeted and just-in-time basis.

The company is also focusing on LocalSaver.com, a coupon portal; and the LocalSaver Network, a distribution network. LocalSaver goes beyond coupons to provide SMBs with enhanced features such as landing pages, updated listings designed to maximize consumer engagement and video. (DataSphere has built videos for 90 percent of its customers.)

The rise in mobile usage, in particular, has led to a major boost in SMBs’ use of geotargeting – and in the availability of geotargeted ad exchange inventory. Seventy percent of LocalSaver traffic is now lat/long enabled, says SVP Gary Cowan.

This is an edited excerpt of a new BIA/Kelsey client brief, “DataSphere: Leveraging Mobile Advertising and Changing Course with 20,000 SMBs.”

Wanderful Media at LSA: Ben Smith on its $14.5 Million Raise, Facebook

Wanderful Media, which has been tasked by the newspaper industry to remake the circular industry in the mobile social era, has raised a new round of $14.5 Million. Altogether, the company has raised $50.5 Million since its September 2012 launch.

The company is primarily known for Find&Save, which relaunched one year ago. It now serves 500 affiliate sites, including all Top 50 DMAs. Find&Save provides geo-targeted distribution of offers for 375 retailers and 150,000 retail locations. While iPhone and iPad apps have been Find&Save’s initial focus, an Android version was launched today.

Speaking at the Local Search Association meeting today in Huntington Beach, CA, CEO Ben Smith said the company is set to put the new money to work. Upwards of $10 million will be committed to app distribution and “making sure people are installing our apps,” he said.

“It’s much like managing your SEO – it’s not trivial and requires significant investment,” said Smith. He added that mobile customers typically only use 10 apps on a frequent basis. “The better way to approach mobile is to consider geo/location data as a way to augment and craft customized marketing messages,” he said.

Facebook integration is also key to “tying it all together,” added Smith. “We get the geo/location data from the mobile app – but Facebook provides the demographic context required to make the data acquired by Wanderful actionable.”

Living Social CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy to Step Down: End of an Era

Living Social CEO and co-founder Tim O’Shaughnessy announced today on the company blog that he is stepping down. He will stay until a new CEO is found and installed – a process that he “hopes” will be completed during the first half of 2014. O’Shaughnessy previously worked at AOL, and transformed Living Social from its origins as a book review site.

O’Shaughnessy’s departure follows Groupon founder’s Andrew Mason’s departure last year, and marks an end of the founder’s era in the prepaid deal space. While we believe that prepaid deals are now a permanent part of the local marketing arsenal, the question remains whether there is a real future for the pioneer companies as they morph their models from high commission daily deals to shopping arcades, local targeting and business services.

Many, of course, have written off Living Social as a viable entity. The company sustained massive losses of $650 million in 2012 and $499 Million in 2011. Moreover, in a major loss of faith, Amazon wrote off most of its investment in the company. At the end of 2012, The Wall Street Journal cheekily suggested that it was one of the brands that would surely go extinct during the year.

Besides the losses, which were largely attributable to an expensive sales infrastructure, the company suffered major issues in 2013, including executive turnover; a multiple day outage; and having all its customers passwords hacked.

The company may choose to brand or merge with another entity that wants a head start in this space, such as a bank. But we see signs of life in many respects, including a deeper focus on mining their customer lists; efforts to morph beyond daily deals to coupons and other factors leading to deeper merchant relationships; mobile-oriented service, such as card linked offers; an enhanced focus on national advertising; retailer ties with companies such as Pier1 Imports, Macy’s, Reebok and OfficeMax ; and a pruning of unproven business areas, such as local events.

Last year, the company raised $110 million — including funds from many of its longtime investors –to get over the bumps. It also got additional money by selling South Korea’s T-Mon service for $260 Million to Groupon, and closed or sold several other international properties.

As O’Shaughnessy notes in his letter: “We now have the most stable and healthy business that we have ever had, and the luxury of having hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank to take us to the next level.”

We have more commentary on Living Social in this recent article by Steven Overly in The Washington Post.


Living Social CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy

PunchTab CEO on Loyalty Programs: ‘The Wheels Are Coming Off’

The utility of loyalty programs is stronger than ever, as they help businesses connect, engage, drive traffic, refer friends, purchase and track customer actions. But efforts to determine loyalty aren’t made easier with all the noise in the system.

Usage is coming in from all over the place (phones, tablets, social networks, reviews, etc.). And while new efforts can be enhanced by tapping into Point of Sale systems, hundreds of these aren’t compatible with each other.

“The wheels are coming off” for loyalty programs, notes PunchTab CEO Ranjith Kumaran. In fact, the evolution of loyalty channels has been moving so fast that PunchTab recently received an RFP from a major Consumer Packaged Goods company that specifically ruled out any comprehensive loyalty solutions. “They didn’t want to be locked into an inflexible system for several years,” says Kumaran.

PunchTab has been in development for three years. The Palo Alto-based company, which currently supports 17,000 loyalty campaigns, has raised $5.3 Million. Its whole effort is to track everything. The company is currently tracking 40 different loyalty-related activities.

“It is risky to build a program around a single channel,” Kumaran says. Eighteen months ago, that channel might have been Pinterest, he notes. Now the interest in Pinterest is “quieter.”

PunchTab’s approach is to incorporate information from multiple sources, such as FourSquare check-ins, or POS systems, or digital receipts. But mostly, the company focuses on workarounds that enable as much flexibility as possible.

One quick service example that PunchTab is working with is Arby’s Restaurant Group. Arby’s didn’t think it could do a loyalty program because it is working with 50 different types of POS systems. But PunchTab created a solution that focused on in store traffic data, allowing to identify tens of thousands of potential customers for a new product that it rolled out.

Looking forward, Kumaran is looking at the whole new range of channels that are expected to come on the scene. “Wearables,” such as smart watches and FIT bands, add a whole new set of data that can determine loyalty factors, he said.