It wasn't always so. When the Starbucks card was first introduced, I couldn't see what was in it for me. Anyone with half a brand could see that there were two ways it benefited the coffee chain. There was a deep insight into card users' tastes and habits as well as money that would be pre-paid on to cards and then trapped -- a little like a gift voucher for yourself. By locking my money onto a card that simply told Starbucks more about me, i thought the odds were stacked too much in favour of the coffeehouse.
However, we're now at a stage where that has been rebalanced. Starbucks is showing brands how if you want customers to use your app and loyalty system, you have to give them a little something back. With coffeehouses, there are a couple of things we all hate. Going through pockets for money and queuing up are probably top of the list for most people. That is why Starbucks offers the facility to store your loyalty card within its app so payment is mobile, and customers can even order on a mobile and pay on the way to the cafe before jumping the queue.
So at first, customers had to take a leap of faith and sign up to the scheme in return for the very occasional free coffee for frequent visitors. Now, however, we can pay and order on the move and not queue up. The next stage, according to the chain, will see customers targeted with personalised offers in real-time. One suspects that this will be offers to upsell customers to a cake to go with that coffee or the occasional free test of a shot of syrup, or whatever else is being trialled, to give that cappuccino a lift.
It seems mind-blowingly simple, doesn't it? You tie in rewards to a loyalty card that doubles up as a prepaid payment card and then put it all in a mobile app. It beggars belief why this is isn't being done more widely. Certainly my preferred coffee chain, Costa, could learn a couple of things here. It also makes you wonder why supermarkets and high street stores don't have cash registers for shoppers with loyalty cards, doesn't it? Why not allow your most loyal customers to skip the queue, and what could be better for sign-ups than people realising they can save time by simply filling out a form or downloading an app so they too can have an express check out experience? With everything on a mobile, you're free to just breeze through the checkout without finding the right money or loyalty card.
I'm particularly thinking of Waitrose here. It's this family's favourite supermarket by a country mile yet the loyalty scheme expects you to pick which offers you want to add to your selected offers list. Why not just make them all available to me? Why ask me to go online and see what offers are available and then select the ones that appeal? Why changes these offers, without telling me when, and then expect me to pop back and keep checking up on what offers have expired and which news ones are on offer? While we're at it, I've got your app -- why not just let me use Apple Pay, with my fingerprint as extra ID, to check out at the till? It can't be any less secure than a credit card, can it?
When you see how it can be done so well, and so simply, it makes you wonder why other brands just don't seem to get that if you give some extra convenience to customers, they will sign up for and use loyalty schemes, which they are happy to have stored on their mobile device. The brand wins through growing its loyalty scheme and speeding up queues and the customer gets a prompter, more personalised experience.
This column was originally published in the London Blog on April 25, 2016.