Category Archives: Deals

LevelUp Teams with Sprint for Billing: Will Carriers be the New Local Billers?

More than 15 years ago, telecom carriers seemed like the logical candidate to handle ecommerce and other third party billing. But high commissions as high as 30 percent ruled them out for handling most billing accounts, after a fast start with porn and other services.

Now, Sprint is re-entering the third party billing arena and will compete with credit and debit cards via its Pinsight Media mobile ad network. The #3 U.S. wireless carrier with 50 million subscribers, has signed a deal with LevelUp to be one of several processors of its bills.

Customers who choose to pay with Sprint at any of the 14,000 merchant locations that take LevelUp will receive a 10 percent rebate as an added incentive. Those spending $100, for instance, will get $10 back.

Speaking at Money2020 this week in Las Vegas, LevelUp Founder Seth Priebatsch said the advantage of teaming with Sprint is that it is “frictionless” and “easy to set up.” The ace in the hole is working with Sprint’s ad network, with is working with 150+ enterprise apps. The ad network can boost restauranteur and retail affinity and allow for users to target based on geo-location, demos, interest/social profiles and LevelUp App Usage.

Sprint is the only mobile carrier who can provide fully integreated mobile ads with carrier billing,” noted Priebatsch. He would not comment on what LevelUp will pay for Sprint billing, although costs will likely be partially defrayed by the use of the ad network.

Groupon Seeks Industry Partners; Wants to Close the Loop for Merchants

Forty percent of merchants run some kind of “special” sales or promotions according to a Groupon survey of 25,000+ merchants. Half of the specials are offline, “trapped” on chalkboards and menus, noted Groupon VP of Marketplacest Dan Roarty, who was speaking at Money2020. “There is no aggregate source for them.”

Roarty said that the company, as part of its Local Operating System, has been working “to close the loop” via its G.Nome payments and loyalty system. Among other things, G. Nome provides a seamless redemption of deals, specials, coupons; automatic requests to leave feedback; and “automatic goodies” for being a great customer.

Many other elements are required to really close the loop, however, said Roarty. Groupon is currently soliciting help from partners who can enhance its efforts to provide payments, Point of Sales info, Geo Fencing, Wifi and Beacons. “Groupon can uniquely blend all these signals and put customers in control,” said Roarty.

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.