Foursquare might have popularized the concept of “check-ins” but Hong Kong start-up SodaCard aims to simplify loyalty for merchants with brick-and-mortar shops.
The digital retail marketing platform has developed a self-service tablet and mobile-based solution that allows businesses to acquire, retain, and communicate with customers.
“Many businesses invest considerable resources building up their Facebook presence, which is a communications platform to virtual customers not real clients,” Douglas Aitken, Soda co-founder, says.
Although the SodaCard mobile app doesn’t integrate with any social media platforms yet, the start-up is leveraging Facebook offers and group-buying deals to drive customers in-store to join its rewards program.
For example, it has posted a Facebook offer for 50 percent off any item at Red Mango, a frozen yogurt shop that is valid until the end of this month.
Once a mobile user downloads the SodaCard app, she will be able to scan the QR code on the Soda kiosk (basically a tablet device) inside participating outlets that are mostly from the food and beverage sector.
Co-founders Matthew and Douglas Aitken showing off the SodaCard platform in their Hong Kong office.
Alternatively, a walk-in customer could do it the conventional way using a Sodacard that currently has 25,000 users in Hong Kong, with 40 percent of them on the mobile app.
The first check-in earns five points and the goal is to get the majority of walk-in customers, those 80 percent who aren’t already VIP customers, to accumulate points to unlock rewards, Aitken explains.
SodaCard is also encouraging merchants to personalize and make rewards fun based on the brand’s personality.
For 10 points, Gourmet Burger Union rewards customers with a “Quench Your Thirst” – free soft drink with any burger offer. Fifteen points gets the customer “Freedom Fries” – complimentary fries with any burger.
Some premium brands are also leveraging it to provide a more experiential reward.
For example, with 70 points and HK$1,000, Jean-Paul Hevin offers members a hot chocolate making demonstration with five friends.
However, it’s not the mobile app but the retail analytics platform that entices local entrepreneurs; Douglas and Matthew Aitken are pitching to brick-and-mortar brands since they launched last October.
Soda provides a plug and play platform equipped with automated remarketing capabilities such as sign-up offers to attract new customers, drop-off offers to drive repeat visits, to birthday and achievement promotions.
More sophisticated brand managers could also use its self-service platform to segment customers, send private offers via email and mobile, including the ability to create actionable email campaigns and track redemption in-store.
According to the brothers, SodaCard is available in 60 locations with approximately 100 more in the pipeline, including Subway sandwiches, Caffe Habitu, Ippei-An Ramen, dining groups Divino and El Grande, as well as a large food court and shopping mall.
SodaCard sees its competitors as traditional loyalty programs such as cashback cards with the objective to simplify CRM (customer relationship management) for merchants by providing them with an easy-to-use dashboard such as a star rating system in one of its analytics features, for instance.
A key challenge that local food chains face is there seems to be little differentiation between credit card promotions and conventional loyalty programs. Digitizing in-store loyalty has proven to work for Japanese food chain Ippei-An Ramen. It took the ramen chain five years to sign up 1,000 customers using traditional punch cards but it was able to acquire the same amount of members within five weeks using SodaCard, Aitken points out.
SodaCard, which is part of Dealised, a white-label social commerce tech provider that raised US$5 million in 2011 through Singtel Innov8 and Yuuwa Capital. The company is using Hong Kong as the test bed for its mobile retail solution with plans to expand to other Southeast Asia markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand in the coming months.
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