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Many retailers and other merchants still use the old “Green Stamps” method to deliver their loyalty programs: they give you a card and punch it (only 8 more slushies to go ’til you get one free!). You are then supposed to keep track of it, and put it somewhere so it’s handy the next time you show up. All of this assumes you remember you have it in the first place.

As with gift card breakage, this is why these programs have such low redemptions rates and – for most consumers – become so unsatisfying: they’re just too hard to use. And if you’ve ever handed an over-worked counter clerk a paper card and asked for a stamp or a punch during the lunch rush, you know that that’s not a happy face he’s giving you. I’m not missing the fact that having a program that no one uses creates a certain amount of practically-free good will for the issuing company, but that’s a tremendous amount of work for an effort that does not ultimately generate the loyalty these merchants desire.

Now comes a loyalty technology company called Chockstone, which is introducing the newest generation of “single swipe,” a functionality that allows POS-based retail loyalty programs (QSR, department stores, gas stations, etc.) to be administered on the same major credit cards we all use today. For a single issuer, such as Subway, this makes the program easier to use and more likely to bring the customer back. It seems to me, though, that the overall potential of this technology could far more significant.

The average U.S. household is signed up for 12 loyalty programs. If multiple programs are administered on a single credit card, then “presence of” (information) and my usage of all of those programs will reside at a single source. Imagine the benefit to the credit card issuer, the administering retailers and other non-participating retailers and merchants:

* Mastercard, Visa and the issuing banks could all tinker with their loyalty efforts based on an assessment of the programs you have loaded on the program and your usage patterns. The issuers could also create an incremental revenue stream by selling various levels of data to participating and non-participating retailers via the creation of a loyalty database co-op.

The early movers could also create their own added loyalty by providing information and custom incentives delivered as a message printed on your monthly card statement.

* The owner of each loyalty program could adjust the levels, incentives and form of its program based not only on their own results, but potentially, your use of competitors’ (or complementary retailers’) programs as well. And customized reward programs could be administered at a cost close to zero. Subway, for example, may want to increase your rewards if it knows that you also have Quiznos’ loyalty program loaded on your credit card.

* Paneros (which, let’s say, may not have a program or might want to be smarter about the one it has) could purchase blind transaction data from the co-op showing your activity with Subway and Quiznos. It could then be quite surgical about testing and defining the value it would take to get you to shift to their program – not too much, not too little. It could creat one mass program, a “best customer” initiative or both.

Most functionality that would be required for all of the above to happen does not yet exist, but the potential for everyone involved is huge. At a macro level, every party in the value chain could achieve higher loyalty, with the right customers, at a reduced cost.  And I could throw away that paper Burritoville punch card I never have with me, anyway.

And, friends: I’ve started a new daily blog at, offering shorter takes on news and trends of the day. I’d be delighted if you’d take a look.


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