Ask the Experts: How digital loyalty programs can work for your small business

Showing loyalty to your favorite businesses used to mean a keychain filled with miniature frequent-customer cards.

When customers visited a business, an employee swiped their card to track purchases or provide a discount or coupon.

Like much of business, however, loyalty is going digital, and businesses can save money and better connect with customers through programs that don’t require customers to fill out online enrollment forms or carry around a punch card or plastic loyalty card.

Digital loyalty programs ask customers to provide only basic information to the business when they visit, such as a phone number.

“It’s the most simple, unique identifier out there,” said Jay Jackson, founder of GetOne Rewards, based in Atlanta and moving into the Charlotte market. “People don’t change their phone numbers.”

Purchases are tracked and rewards earned so the customer is eligible for discounts or freebies. Other programs include Pirq and Belly.

Some of the most sophisticated digital loyalty programs connect with customers long after their visit, according to Dwane Walton of Charlotte-based Total Merchant Supply, which sells cash registers and point-of-sale systems.

Loyalty members can get a text message and coupon from the business shortly after shopping at the store. Days later, they may get another message, urging them to like the business on Facebook in exchange for even more coupons, Walton said.

From there, the promotion can move to the Facebook pages of customers’ friends. “The really cool” programs, Walton said, “deliver value to the merchant.”

GetOne doesn’t require customers to use mobile devices. Instead, customers type in their information at a display next to the register.

With a small incentive, such as a point toward a reward, customers could also be asked to provide their birth date, gender and email address. All information is entered into a database that keeps track of that customer’s habits at the business.

A small amount of info goes far

With this information, a business can now reach a customer on a more personal level. It’s more than sending coupons for plums to a woman in uptown who buys a lot of the fruit.

Now a business could send a birthday coupon, emailed through an automated program, or electronic coupons for customers’ favorites products or services.

Paul Mitchell The School Charlotte recently signed up with GetOne Rewards after years of trying punch cards and customer membership cards, which weren’t that successful.Customers often lost the cards and those programs required the business to buy extra hardware.

GetOne provides a personalized loyalty program and an iPad for the business. At the Paul Mitchell School, customers can earn points toward coupons and free haircuts.

Customers receive extra points when they sign up if they provide their email address, birthday or answer a question about whether they are interested in a career in the beauty industry. The school will follow up with those who answer yes to see if they could be potential students.

After 13 days, more than 470 people had signed up for the program, said Jody Baucom, the school’s director.

“Now we have to capitalize off that and get some enrollees (in the school).”