How Rakuten plans to move its loyalty program to the blockchain

Our friends in the blockchain startup arena are always assuring us that loyalty programs will flourish with blockchain technology. Mostly, they are thinking that consumers will be able to trade their loyalty points outside the company's program, and we're not sure that will fly... 

More likely, in our opinion, companies in the future will leverage proprietary blockchains. Rakuten (Japan's Amazon-type company) has millions of people on its existing loyalty platform, and they will be offered a pretty painless and safe opportunity to experiment with Rakuten Coin. We think that running the existing and a new platform, then encouraging people to transfer, is a good strategy. We wouldn't risk our savings in a cryptocurrency, but we would risk our reward points. (At least once!)

Sourcing Journal: Are Cryptocurrency and Blockchain the New Look For Loyalty? 2018-Mar-1 by Jessica Binns

Rakuten, the Japanese company best known for its e-commerce marketplace, announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC) that it plans to roll its existing Rakuten Super Points loyalty program into one powered by blockchain, leveraging its 2016 acquisition of bitcoin wallet startup Bitnet to create the Rakuten Blockchain Lab and develop a new cryptocurrency: Rakuten Coin.

In the 15 years since the rewards program launched, Rakuten has issued $9 billion in Super Points, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani said during a keynote speech at MWC. Notably, Rakuten is also the No. 1 fintech company in Japan.

The company sees the potential for cryptocurrency rewards to fuel the growth of cross-border shopping as it attracts new customers from around the globe to its many interests, which include Ebates in the U.S. and Priceminister, the second-most-trafficked e-commerce site in France. A “borderless” currency would eliminate many of the pain points that international online shoppers often encounter, such as prohibitive customs duties and costly conversion rates. Cryptocurrency could also become the norm across all of Rakuten’s many touch points.


Major League Baseball and Safelite Autoglass team up for customers

Agility in marketing is about scanning the environment for meaningful ways to support customers and to newsjack events. Safelite has figured out a charming way to do it. 

Loyalty360: Impact of Emotions on Customer Preference, Brand Loyalty at Safelite AutoGlass, 2017-Dec-29, Interview of Renee Cacchillo, Safelite SVP of Customer, Brand and Technology by Jim Tierney

...the marketing team was tasked with finding ways to build meaningful connections with customers. We’re doing that by identifying passion points and appealing to consumers’ emotions–whether it’s humor, love, or empathy.... 

We’re finding sports to be a real passion point for customers that allow us to see a halo effect. One example is a partnership with during Spring Training.

The official Twitter page for MLB (@MLB) is letting fans know that if their windshield falls victim during spring training games or batting practice, mentioning the @Safelite Twitter handle will get a Safelite AutoGlass technician on site ASAP to fix it. The deal also includes co-branded trivia questions for fans on Twitter.

The partnership actually stemmed from a relationship started last February when a fan’s windshield was hit by a spring training home run. After sharing photos and social buzz on Twitter, Safelite AutoGlass stepped up to replace the fan’s windshield at no charge. 


So, it seems that partnering with the MLB is a very natural fit for our business to grow our brand awareness and build preference.

Kohl's is staying close to the customer in more ways than one

Kohl's provides an excellent example of operating the whole business being 'customer-centric.' That's how we stay close to our customers. 

DC Velocity: Kohl's fights back--with its stores, 2018-Feb-27, Interview of COO Sona Chawla by David Maloney

Kohl's is leveraging its stores for direct-to-customer distribution as they now operate as mini-fulfillment centers to handle online orders.

Kohl's stores currently perform 32 percent of its online fulfillment, according to Chawla. On "Cyber Monday," the stores collectively did three times the fulfillment volume of its traditional e-commerce channels, she said.

A key factor for the strategy is that stores shorten the distance to customers, Chawla said. Delivery from stores is 25 percent faster than filling an e-commerce order from a distribution center, she said.

Kohl's has increased its store traffic by encouraging in-store pickups, where customers order online but come into the stores to pick up their merchandise. Chawla says that 90 percent of online customers also shop in Kohl's stores. Incentives, such as the Kohl's Cash discount loyalty programs, also help to keep customers coming back. 

Another strategy has been to break down silos between its operational teams, Chawla said. Managers now work together to make adjustments and tradeoffs, rather than just ensuring their own areas are optimized at the expense of others, she said.


Facebook is our canary in the coal mine (in America) for GDPR (the new rules for collecting customer data in the European Union)

One of my clients has many contacts and customers in Europe, so we send email newsletters and maintain contact records that are subject to the new General Data Protection Regulation of the EU. (Despite Brexit, the UK has decided--wisely--to comply with GDPR for the foreseeable future.) 

If you haven't heard about GDPR... here's a resource to bring you up-to-date:

Technically, GDPR only affects companies who have customers and prospects in the European Union (+ the U.K.). However, many people predict that GDPR will become the 'gold standard' for protection of customer data. Despite the fact it may not solve future data piracy problems! 

In terms of deciding how to implement GDPR requirements, we in the U.S. may find it valuable to look at Facebooks' very public struggle to comply... 

Econsltancy has some very helpful information, including this free post. Plus GDPR training for Econsultancy subscribers. 

My point is that GDPR will probably affect your CRM and/or loyalty strategy in the future, and you need to start learning to understand it.


Air Canada wipes a clean slate for loyalty

Air Canada should be able to dramatically increase their agility when it comes to evolving a good loyalty program by not having a legacy system. 

Skift: Why Air Canada Is Starting from Scratch with Its Loyalty Program, 2018-Jan-31 by Brian Sumers

In 2002, Air Canada merely made Aeroplan, its frequent flyer program, into a separate company, but by 2008, after an initial public offering, it became independent. Aeroplan is now owned by Aimia, a publicly traded Canadian firm that operates it separately from the airline.... Now, Air Canada wants back in. In 2020, when its contract with Aimia expires, Air Canada will start its own new frequent flyer program. It’s still working out details, asking employees and customers what they want....

Mark Nasr, Air Canada's VP for loyalty and e-commerce: "We can’t actually comment in detail on the nature of the [Aimia] contract and the specific assets and ownerships of either side. But what I will say is data which naturally involved the airline, like where you fly and how many miles you earned flying, we have access to today. But richness in information about the customer as it relates to activity outside of core airline air travel is going to be an opportunity for us in the future — hotel activity, ground activity, retail. There’s also a level of richness with the credit card co-brand portfolio.

"There’s another point about data, and this is really important. It’s one thing to have data, and then it’s another thing to have the systems and infrastructure to act upon it to deliver value for customers. When we talk about in-sourcing, and we talk about data, one of the biggest advantages for us isn’t necessarily going to be a whole lot more data as much as it’s going to be a more modern platform that allows us to take that data and use it to customize service offerings."


New Starbucks card vetted by NerdWallet: great for sampling the menu

Starbucks is doing a good job making the customer experience sparkle with their new Visa card. Nerdwallet also has the best explanation of the 'star system' I've seen. Our only problem is staying on the healthy side of the menu. 

Nerdwallet: Starbucks Rewards Visa Card Review, 2018-Feb-13 by Claire Tsosie

The sign-up bonus is super-sweet. The sign-up bonus on the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card is worth 2,500 Stars. That’s worth 20 food and drink items. That could add up to:

  • 10 Frappuccinos and 10 turkey pesto paninis, or
  • 15 Caramel Macchiatos and five apple fritters, or
  • Seven pumpkin spice lattes and 13 Cranberry Bliss Bars at holiday time

For Starbucks devotees, this bonus makes the card far more attractive.

Stars can potentially be quite valuable. If you redeem Stars for some of the most expensive food and drink items — namely, the items that cost $5 or more — you’ll get at least 4 cents out of each Star. That’s an excellent value, if you can manage it.

To be sure, if your favorite Starbucks item is drip coffee with room for cream, this card won’t be as valuable. But for those who want to venture into the more expensive parts of the Starbucks menu, it’s a big money-saver.... 

The Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card isn’t about dollars and cents — it’s about coffee, pastries and emotional value. It’s not the most lucrative credit card available for everyday spending, but it’s a relatively affordable way to treat yourself on a regular basis, save some cash on your coffee runs and taste-test all the priciest items on the Starbucks menu. For enthusiastic Starbucks customers, its frequent freebies and surprises make it a steal, even with the $49 annual fee.


Loyal customers get variety and choice at Hertz

Car rental firms are facing up to customer demand for choice and variety more and more. The Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program has been a simple and effective membership mechanism for a long time. Now Hertz is improving the customer experience.

AutoSlash: Hertz's Ultimate Choice: A One-Year Review, 2018-Feb-12 by Chris

But for the real Ultimate Choice magic, sign up for Hertz's free Gold Plus Rewards program. It costs nothing and takes only a couple minutes to fill out the form on Hertz's website.

Then, when you book a midsize car at an Ultimate Choice location, not only do you get to skip the long line at the rental counter, you also get to pick from a special selection of vehicles just for Gold members. Hertz tries to reserve nicer trims and lower-mileage vehicles for the Gold section—instead of Corollas and Sentras with 50,000 miles on them, in the Gold aisle, you might find a Hyundai Elantra (a fun car to drive!) with 15,000 miles and maybe even leather seats. You might occasionally find a couple of fullsize cars sprinkled throughout the row.

It gets even better if you have a few rentals under your belt. Just five rentals in a calendar year gets you Hertz Five Star status. A midsize reservation at an Ultimate Choice location as a Five Star customer will give you access to an even more special Five Star vehicle selection


Crayola supports user-generated content with Instagram and Vivoom

For customers, having a brand to republish your post is such a thrill. To move from an organic Instagram activity into shared videos, Crayola worked with Vivoom to develop a Crayola app that helped its customers create and share video holiday cards. 

Getting enthusiastic customer testimonials has never been easier for brands like Crayola. 

Adexchanger: Crayola Gets Crafty With User-Generated Content, 2018-Feb-8 by Allison Schiff

Crayola consumers create a lot of organic content using Crayola products. A search for the #crayola hashtag on Instagram surfaces everything from intricate fan-made “Crayoligraphy” handwriting art to crayon doodles from kids.

The brand’s social team makes good use of those assets by engaging with creators in the comments and republishing their posts. 

But the paid media team also wanted to take advantage of the content’s authenticity, which led it to Vivoom, a platform that allows people to use their phone or computer to create and share videos with branded templates and augmented reality filters.

Crayola tested the technology over two weeks in December as part of a larger holiday campaign, encouraging consumers to make holiday video cards and post them across social channels. The purpose was to see if consumers would generate quality video content that Crayola could later repurpose for other campaigns, including paid efforts.

During the test’s limited run, users only created a few hundred videos – but they garnered more than 300,000 views, with a 62% completion rate compared with the 52% average completion rate normally seen on Crayola’s video content. The $.04 cost-per-view rate was also far below the industry benchmark range of $.10 to $.30.

The results are proof that friend-to-friend and user-to-user engagement help performance, Scurato said. Crayola plans to tap its fans to power future content-driven initiatives, including online video campaigns.


Retailers, including Neiman Marcus, are building one-to-one relationships via mobile apps

Shoppers are less and less likely to frequent the e-commerce website of a store, and more and more likely to rely on its mobile app. Mobile apps have two big advantages over websites for retailers: 1) they are easy to use in-store and 2) they are more likely to used casually by the shopper. Smart retailers are pouring money into mobile app development and mobile-enabled commerce. Neiman Marcus Looks To Associates For Social Media Commerce, 2018-Jan-23

At the National Retail Federation (NRF) show last week, Neiman Marcus Chief Executive Karen Katz said that her 4,500 associates are generating sales for the company via their personal Instagram and Snapchat accounts. Katz said the company encourages the practice because “customers who are attached to a sales associate spend more.”

To help facilitate communications with customers, each associate receives a company-issued iPhone and the iSell mobile app. Associates post fashion advice — like how to dress up jeans — and text updates about new items that have arrived in-store. “We are trying to bring a more human touch to how [our associates] act online,” Katz said.


“A huge portion of discovery of new products is now happening on Instagram and Pinterest for women,” said Jennifer Hyman, co-founder of Rent the Runway, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Pinterest and Instagram serve as virtual malls or virtual cataloging for every woman across the globe.” And, through a mobile app called Spring, fashion shoppers can discover new brands, as well as manage the packaging and shipping of their items. 

RetailWire: Will in-store clienteling aid Neiman Marcus’ digital push? 2017-Oct-23 by Tom Ryan

On its fourth-quarter conference call earlier this month, CEO Karen Katz told analysts the luxury retailer continues to invest in software tools to “deepen engagement” and “help our associates drive sales outside the four walls of the store.”

A major focus is continued investments is Isell, a proprietary digital clientele management tool first rolled out five years ago that allows sales associates to use an app on a company-issued iPhone to retrieve customer data and “tap into customer preferences.” 

To further personalization, custom software is being developed that enables selling associates to send personalized outfit suggestions to customers via text message, which Ms. Katz described as “already a key driver of transactions.” The suggestions are based on past purchases, customer browsing history on the company’s websites, social feeds and/or inquiries.

The clienteling tool is guiding the company’s first platform under the digital first strategy that focuses on digital luxury services. Two other platforms involve upgrading Neiman’s e-commerce sites and increasing its selection of exclusive merchandise.

Building a loyalty program at DAVIDsTEA

Rewarding customers is important, but if we want to grow closer to them and strengthen our business, we have to use our loyalty data to try new things with them. 

diginomica: How DAVIDsTEA uses loyalty program data to change experiences – and results, 2018-Jan-16 by Jon Reed

...The rate of re-activated DAVIDsTEA customers is up 47 percent. (that means a customer that was active, say, in 2015, but not in 2016).

Figuring out the precise number for an action is huge. In the case of retention, the magic number is 140 days. Artun:

By looking at that metric, you can figure out there’s a break point around 140 days. So what the brand does is that, as the customer stops coming to the store or buying online, keep track of how long it’s been – and create a trigger message.
With any data project, the plumbing is important. AgilOne pulls relevant data from DAVIDsTEA’s operational systems, including its Microsoft Dynamics ERP. They also pull data into AgilOne from their marketing campaigns on Facebook and elsewhere. “The data is being pushed there every day,” says Laporte.