Category Archives: Deals

First Data Adds Beacon Technology to its Perka Loyalty Solution

First Data, the payment processing giant, has been building up a suite of services that would take the company far beyond payment processing and inject it squarely in the middle of SMB marketing.

The suite as currently configured includes the Clover Point of Sales system; Insightics analytics of transactions; Gyft virtual gift card services; and Perka, a sophisticated loyalty program for SMBs. Each of the services works independently, but are also increasingly integrated as well.

Perka was purchased by First Data roughly one year ago; in tandem with First Data’ purchase of Clover. Competing with Belly, Five Stars, SpotOn and other loyalty services, Perka now has over 1,000 merchants, and has recently increased its monthly fee for new customers from $50 to $59.99.

Co-founder Rob Bethge recently talked with BIA/Kelsey about the service’s progress under First Data – a sale which Bethge says has given it a chance to scale on a global basis– technologically and commercially – much faster than if it had been a standalone company.

Bethge says the company is just now “commercializing” with First Data’s various channels, including the use of up to 1,700 First Data sales reps of various stripes reaching out to SMBs. The service’s latest feature is the addition of proprietary wireless Beacon technology with rolling security codes, which will be provided for free to subscribers. The technology, which requires consumer opt-in, allows stores to know precisely who is in their store at any time – a favorite merchant feature, says Bethge.

Among other things, stores could theoretically craft special promotions based on this knowledge. The service, which is Bluetooth enabled, also allows easy transactions when consumers hands are full (i.e. if they are carrying a baby or a cup of coffee).

Theoretically, using the Beacon, consumers can turn on the feature for the morning at some stores, and then turn it on for other stores in the evening. The Beacon technology also enables individual merchant apps, in addition to Web access. “It allows for very location oriented offers,” Bethge says.

Interestingly, Bethge says the Beacon service would not have had an impact when Perka was first introduced in 2011. At that time, “less than half of locations had WiFi. Now it is not even a question.”

All Roads Lead to Groceries: Groupon Adds ‘Snap’ Loyalty Program

When it comes to local commerce and loyalty programs, all roads lead to groceries. That’s the feeling of key companies in the space, including WalMart, Amazon, Google and eBay. Groupon this week announced Snap, a grocery coupon and loyalty program that gets it into groceries in a more meaningful way than prior efforts to go in via daily deals – where the discounts were not sustainable in an industry that is more dependent on “cents off” than “55 percent” off.

As reported in Chicago Business, Snap replaces Freebies, a coupon program launched in 2013 that has attracted 30,000 coupons from 7,000 retailers. Users of Snap receive offers and get money back after they aggregate $20 of discounts — if they upload photos of receipts showing the goods that were promoted. (This validation effort could prove a little klugey.)

While a robust grocery and delivery program has its own value, it may also lead to a key gateway into women shoppers; strong user behavior analytics; and peripheral deliveries or transactions with other goods such as electronics, etc. Groceries are also used more often than other key anchor promotion verticals, such as restaurants and services. Google similarly entered the grocery coupon business last year with the rollout of Zavers.

In Groupon’s case, the Snap program also supports its broader Marketplace effort, which allows advertisers to participate in many different channels (deals, coupons, ads). Seventy-five percent of Groupon business advertisers currently use Groupon for at least one feature in addition to the one-off deals. One of the key issues with Marketplace has been to provide a volume of listings so that searchers will always find things when they search for them. Currently, 9 percent of Groupon’s transactions emanate from Marketplace.

The Snap program does not get Groupon into dedicated home delivery — yet — but it does build out the marketplace, and could serve as an effective building block.

Signpost: CRM, Marketing Automation Enhance Promotions

Signpost_Logo (3)

Deals and coupons remain anchors for local business promotion. But they can now be customized based on customer behavior and better marketing automation tools.
Signpost is eager to leverage these developments. While the 200 person company launched in 2011 as a “Deals Scout” and promotions manager – initially supporting Google Offers and others — it has increasingly gotten into software development.

Today, the company – which has raised about $15 million from Spark Capital, Google Ventures, OpenView Venture Partners and others — announced a new strategy that measures SMB interactions with customers (calls, email and credit card transactions). That data is then used it to drive a number of automated marketing solutions (coupons, reviews, referrals). It can also be used to generate real time reports on spending behavior, and rank customers by transaction activity, transaction size and recent interactions.

Pricing for the service is set for $199 a month, which represents a $50 increase from the earlier, promotions-oriented effort.

The question for Signpost is whether it can effectively carve out a niche for itself. Other companies, ranging from Marketo and HubSpot to Groupon, First Data and ForwardLine, are also delivering a wider range of SMB targeting services based on customer behavior they are tracking.

Signpost CEO Stu Wall is a featured speaker at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing, which takes place Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You can get more information here.


Signpost CEO Stu Wall

Empty Seats at Lunch? Mogl Launches Time of Day Promotions

Loyalty programs offering cash back or other rewards make a lot of sense for merchants – until it is 7:30 pm on Friday, and the loyalty program is still giving 20 percent back even though it is prime time for the restaurant. Mogl, the San Diego-based loyalty firm now working with over 1,000 restaurants in Southern California, San Francisco and Phoenix, thinks it has solved the problem.

Since June, the company — which has raised $25 million and set to initiate a new round — has been rolling out a new version that lets restaurants choose the amount of cash-back based on time of day. A 20 percent promotion at lunch can shrink to 1 percent for dinner, and go back to 10 percent for brunch – based on when the restaurant has seats to fill. Mogl calls this putting “butts in seats”.

How does it work? Restaurants log on to their dashboard on the Mogl website to program their cash-back offer by day and time. Mogl has established direct relationships with Visa, MasterCard and American Express providing users with a seamless, coupon-less, loyalty card-less way to redeem the real-time rewards if they just pay with any debit or credit card.

While several other loyalty providers also allow for time of day promotions — some even extending beyond restaurants to include hotels and other categories — CEO Jon Carder claims that MOGL is actually the first loyalty provider to get a live feed of card transactions. He asserts that other loyalty companies gain access to feeds from banks and payment processors that aren’t in real time. Moreover, these feeds only provide day of transaction data – which isn’t useful for executing time-based promotions, he argues.

Others, like FiveStars, get much closer to real time data – if consumers are willing to provide phone numbers or swipe dedicated loyalty cards though a restaurant’s POS. Carder feels this is a disadvantage. Mogl’s seamlessness is a major step up, he says, comparing it to what Uber did for the taxi industry (to us, this is an arguable point).

Regardless, MOGL’s new flexibility with promotions has also enabled it to pivot its business model. The company used to charge a flat 5 percent fee to restaurants across the board. But now – with rewards becoming variable – it has switched to a flat monthly fee of $199. The fee is refundable if restaurants don’t clear $199 in revenue a month from Mogl users These fees are on top of reward/jackpot fees, which the restaurant can now set for itself. The top three customers in a month at each restaurant win a jackpot bonus. The company allows customers to donate their cash-back to local food banks. More than 800,000 meals have been given away.

Mogl’s new model is also winning it some new customers – including some of the hottest restaurants that had shied away from flat, cash-back reward programs in the past because they weren’t able to change the amount based on time of day, says Carder. Even these establishments find themselves needing to fill their seats on weekday lunches.

We’ll have an extensive rundown of loyalty strategies and issues for SMBs at our Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing event Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. Groupon’s Dan Roarty is keynoting, and our session includes executives from First Data, Mercury Payments and SignPost.. Register here.

First Data Bets on Virtual Gift Cards to Drive Local Commerce

Gift cards have been growing astronomically and now make up an industry nearing $100 billion in revenues. You’ll see racks of cards for national brands and retailers everywhere, from Safeway to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

But can local merchants get in the loop? We’ve seen gift card activity increase in travel, spa & salon and hospitality. Most of these are sold in person or on web sites.

And a second question: can they go virtual, with gift cards stored in e-wallets and easily bought, sold and transacted via mobile phone? While the industry is relatively nascent, Mercator Advisory Group says loads onto digital cards have tripled from 2012 to 2014.

That’s the bet that payment processing giant First Data is making today via the acquisition of Gyft, a Silicon Valley ewallet provider that has contracts with 200 major retailers.

First Data is hoping to extend its own prepaid ties with over 300 national retailers, while also working with SMBs who use its Clover touchscreen POS solution. Its Perka loyalty program customers may also be recruited.

Not everyone thinks they can easily move into Gift cards, however. Facebook, today, announced that it was shutting down its virtual gift card service – apparently, it sees other avenues for getting into ecommerce, such as buy buttons, as more immediate and customer-centric.

Perka co-founder Rob Bethge is a featured speaker at BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing conference Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. Check out the full agenda here. Prices go up after July 31.

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).