Category Archives: Deals

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).

Living Social Looks Beyond Deals for its Brand Partners

“Deals are very, very powerful for many brands,” but the deals themselves only represent part of the overall opportunity that brands have in working with deals companies and their millions of local customers, said Living Social EVP of National Retail Mitch Spolan, who keynoted today during Leading in Local: The National Impact in Atlanta.

The operative question is how do you activate and bring to life a brand’s strength? asked Spolan. It doesn’t always include a deal. In many cases, email, Facebook and Twitter can target local customers with messages – in fact, Living Social regularly achieves 12 percent coverage in given markets using the wide range of social media and commerce tools at its disposal.

The company is mostly focused on providing an “integrated experience” that tie brands to Living Social customers. For instance, Living Social provides local specific experiences as part of its brand promotion deal with Miller Coors’ Redd Apple Ale – and “Miller Coors is not selling its products on Living Social,” said Spolan. Consumers are also not going to be buying a Hyundai Santa Fe on Living Social – but Hyndair finds real value in working with Living Social.

Living Social “experiences” that are sponsored by brands include a kayaking adventure in Denver, a pirate cruise in San Francisco, a Blues and BBQ part in Atlanta; urban biking in Philadelphia and emerging artist festivals in Washington DC.

The company’s base of customers are often larger than brands can achieve on their own, added Spolan. A campaign with a restaurant chain such as Outback will be marketed to larger group than Outback would otherwise have. If brands do want to do a deal or sell an item , however. The volume is potentially huge – or in Living Social parlance, a “Stampede.” Bed Bath & Beyond, for instance, recently sold 378,000 vouchers for an in-store deal.

Microsoft’s Jorgensen: ‘We Are Building Our Muscles’ in Card Linked Space

Card Linked Offers (CLOs) represent a potentially rich opportunity for online and mobile promotions and loyalty. But a lot of work needs to be done before the segment gets seriously underway.

Speaking at the inaugural conference of the CardlinX Association April 7 in Las Vegas, Microsoft GM of Local Advertising Erik Jorgensen noted there are significant opportunities to connect the online world with the offline world, closing the loop for online advertising and loyalty.

There is “broad experimentation with integrated consumer and merchant experiences,” said Jorgensen. “The CPA based ad model highly reasonates with merchants.”

During the past 12 months, Microsoft has launched CLO betas of its Bing Offers in Seattle, Boston and Phoenix. The trials take off on Microsoft’s initial deals efforts, but don’t require pre-payment.

Most of Microsoft’s efforts in the space are focused on the Bing portals – both on the Web and on mobile. Card linked efforts are also included in Bing Local, Bing’s Listings Page and the Bing Search Engine Results Page.

There is also a strong “mobile first” component to the effort. Windows Phone, Skype and Windows 8 are all included in the efforts, which are seen as a marketplace differentiator. “There are five or six places on the phone where we surface offers,“ said Jorgensen.

The company is also sending out targeted emails. “ We are building up our muscles to understand how we target offers,” noted Jorgensen. “The next phase is not just a pull but a push” via intelligent notification.

This post is an excerpt from a full Briefing on The Cardlinx meeting, which is available to BIA/Kelsey clients.

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