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.

Money2020: ApplePay Drives Mega Event

The emergence of geo-targeting and mobile payment and wallet technologies has meant that we talk a lot less about the future of “advertising” than “marketing.” All this was crystal clear this week at the third annual edition of Money2020 in Las Vegas, a showcase for payment innovations, and a major boomtown, too. Attendance climbed from 4,000 attendees in 2013 to 7,500 attendees this year. Next year, the show will move to much larger quarters at The Venetian, and add a European edition.

BIA/Kelsey participated in this year’s festivities by presenting new research into card linking trends during a special offsite session hosted by The Cardlinx Association.

ApplePay – not part of the program, incidentally — was clearly the big driver of this year’s event, rebuilding momentum lost from earlier efforts by Google Wallet and others. As Visa President Ryan McInerney noted, the high awareness of ApplePay generally, and its use of tokenization has brought a real sense that payment technologies have moved beyond credit card account numbers towards high impulse and efficient transactions.

It will also help open the door to a new generation of payments, promotions and services – even if many features, such as NFC contactless payments, won’t be in widespread use for several years. Kicking off the show, McKinsey & Co.’s Philip Bruno and Kausik Rajgopal highlighted six major payment themes. These included:

1. Point of Sale evolution
2. Payment security
3. Crypto-currency
4. Globalization of commerce
5. New credit models
6. New partnerships and acquisitions

Things are happening very fast in this space, noted Bruno. It was just 17 years ago that ecommerce began. It has now crossed the trillion dollar mark.

American Express CEO Kenneth Chennault, during an opening interview, said that when it comes down to payment innovation, it all comes down to one thing: Merchants want to grow sales. Does the innovation “help merchants meet customer needs?” he asked. “Do they provide incentives for changing customer behavior?”

Chennault expressed confidence that Amex, for one, is providing marketing insights that “allow us to provide different types of promotions and offers to drive more business. Not just acceptance, but engagement,” he emphasized.

Other industry leaders also spoke about appealing to merchant needs. Heartland Payments CEO Bob Carr, for instance, said that they key thing with payment innovations is not to give advantages to a merchant’s best customers without disintermediating merchant margins. “The problem with othwerwise useful sites like OpenTable and GrubHub is that they disintermediate margins,” he said.

Money2020: First Data, Poynt Show Off Mobile POS Solutions


The Point of Sales revolution that began with Square’s introduction of its iPhone fob in 2009 has continued unabated. Rising consumer expectations, increased mobile and WiFi access and more tools have made POS a strategic tool that could not have been imagined a few years ago.

Among the new breed of solutions are ReachLocal’s ReachCommerce suite; Groupon’s Genome; Heartland’s Leaf; and First Data‘s Clover, which now has 26,000 terminals in the field after its initial release seven months ago.

First Data purchased Clover in October 2013. The tablet-based system was seen as the cornerstone of a new strategy that would update First Data’s reliable, table-based POS terminals. The acquisition of Clover was also designed to integrate with its Perka loyalty program, which was acquired at the same time; and its Insightics analytics.

At Money2020 in Las Vegas this week, First Data unveiled a new mobile -first extension of its Clover station. Poynt similarly showed off its own new mobile-first terminal. Both companies’ mobile terminals are attractive, Apple-like, white hardware mini-tablets. Clover boasts a handle to better hold on to its tablet, while Poynt features a large bump.

A major part of both their strategies is to accept a number of third party Apps. Clover now has dozens of Apps in its store and hopes to have 100 by year-end. The Apps often carry monthly add on charges of $5-10 a month, instead of just being sold for a flat fee, like consumer Apps. The Apps provide such features as employee punchcards; instant ratings and reviews; virtual giftcards; coupon managers; and charity donations. Clover and Poynt also boast printing options.

New at ILM SFO 2014: Brad Stone, Author, ‘The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon’

Local’s 800 lb. gorilla is always Amazon. It has already had a huge impact on retail via showrooming. Now it has invaded Groceries, and is heading towards Services. Plus it wants to provide a full range of promotional and fulfillment services for SMBs via Amazon Offers, Amazon Web Services and other services.

At Leading in Local: Interactive Local Media, which is Dec. 3-5 at the SFO Hyatt, we’ll talk up and down Amazon and its impact on local with Brad Stone, the author of “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.” (We’ll probably get some copies as door prizes for audience members). Stone, who won the Business Book of the Year award for The Everything Store, also serves as Bloomberg Businessweek’s senior writer in San Francisco.

The show itself continues to build and build — it is likely to be one of the biggest yet.

Some of the highlights of the two-and-a-half-day show — out of many — include a keynote from Pinterest VP Joel Meek; two sessions dedicated to Google and its transformation of local; a VC session with Mucker Labs’ Will Hsu and Comcast Venture’s Michael Yang; a keynote from YP CMO Allison Checchi; a keynote from Yodle CEO Court Cunningham as Yodle preps its IPO; and a dual keynote from Deseret Media’s Clark Gilbert and Chris Lee, taking the lessons of disruptive media to heart in their remaking of the media company. Gilbert and Lee recently did a briefing for the BIA/Kelsey analysts – it was, by far, the most enlightening briefing for us this year.

We’ll also be presenting a great deal of cutting-edge BIA/Kelsey research, including findings from our exclusive survey of top loyalty executives, where we have worked to see what is working, what is not and where the momentum lies. Great insights are coming in. The Cardlinx Association has partnered with us on the survey, and Cardlinx head Silvio Tavres will be co-presenting.


Author Brad Stone, Recipient of Business Book of The Year

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.”

Gannett’s Key Ring: Integrating Circulars With Loyalty Programs


Gannett’s acquisition of Key Ring two years ago was something of a head shaker. Was the media giant diving into online loyalty marketing, an area mostly dominated by financial institution-related companies? Two years later, more light has been shed on the Key Ring acquisition.

Key Ring is a mobile app that lets consumers electronically enter their loyalty card in in one digital location. In this regard, it is like Constant Contact’s CardStar. What we’ve learned is that Gannett is using the App to drive targeted traffic to its big box and retail circular advertisers from ShopLocal, the sister G/O Digital brand.

CEO Chris Fagan tells us Key Ring, which has 15 full time employees, now provides circular content from 160 retailers. Of these, 90 are providing exclusive content via ShopLocal. Offers can be triggered on user cell phones by geo location or via in-store beacons. You might access “Here is what is on sale at Target” for instance. Consumers can use it to explore and discover what is nearby.

The ShopLocal ties makes it possible to scale all the merchant and brand relationships without having to deal with each merchant and brand – a major barrier for other companies, says Fagan. The app also incorporates 65,000 coupons a month from Clipper Magazine.

What Key Ring really brings to the table is enormous scale. Fagan says the App has a surprisingly high 11.1 million customers. Active users may access it five or six times a month, with the more steady users not only accessing circular content, but the site’s shopping lists. These consumers have really high retention and recurring usage, says Fagan.

Interestingly, the majority of the customers are driven organically by good consumer press and other sources, he says. For instance, the comapny recently got a good mention in Good Housekeeping Magazine that really drove usage. Gannett’s cross media ads in USA Today and on its TV stations have been helpful, but not especially critical.