Getting little bit into history, reward programs spans over a century (~120 years) with S&H Green Stamps in late 1800’s, the launch of modern programs by the airlines ~35 years ago, and to the recent coalition programs like Plenti’s initial marketing partners that include Macy’s, AT&T, Exxon Mobil and Rite Aid.
According to the 2017 Colloquy Loyalty Census, there are 3.8 billion individual loyalty memberships in the United States increasing from 2.6 billion in 2012. Every day we come across some sort of customer loyalty and reward programs in our daily lives while consuming products and services across industries that represent the spread of memberships in retail – 42%, travel & hospitality – 29%, financial – 17%, media & content, the cross-section of these industries and as well as others representing remaining 12%.
With that being said, loyalty and reward programs are facing the underpinning threats as well as bundled with few opportunities as described below. In view of this, Providers of loyalty programs should focus on their long-term sustenance and growth strategies. The following metrics are compiled from Kobie and Colloquy reports.
- Only 46% of loyalty memberships in the USA are active leaving behind more than half of all memberships inactive
- Over 70% of consumers in the age group of 20 to 34 years old said they would change where they shopped to get more loyalty rewards
- 34% of USA consumer say they are loyal to a brand because of its loyalty program
- Loyalty/reward programs with integrated sustainability, contribution to the environment and quality of life are scoring more than the rest
In the above context, Blockchain technology can play a significant role allowing the providers to integrate store locators, payment vehicles, loyalty programs, even games, in a platform that enables information always to be at the consumer’s fingertips. The blockchain based platform can offer convenience, rewards, ease of use and customer experience combine to build consumer loyalty, engagement, and advocacy.
Traditionally most rewards programs use a proprietary “points system”. Customers can accumulate points for purchases at a rate that was set by the issuer and finally uses the points to purchase merchandise at a redemption ratio set by the issuer which is somewhat regulated. 3rd party fulfillment usually handles the redemption hosting the user redemption via an online web framework, maintain and keep the catalog of rewards, administer point balances, manage promotions, ship rewards, and deduct the points in a systematic manner. As you can realize by now the multi-party loyalty systems are somewhat circumvented and that leads an opportunity for disintermediation. The recent developments with blockchain technology seemingly offers an effective alternative to run loyalty programs.
As depicted in the diagram above, the entire ecosystems of loyalty & rewards programs including providers, channel distributors, customers, incentives & payments firms can be seamlessly integrated onto a blockchain core to enhance the overall value proposition. Blockchain can enable a ledger of transactions to be shared across a network of participants. When a loyalty point is issued, redeemed, or exchanged, the blockchain’s AI algorithm-generated unique token could be created and assigned to that transaction and distributed across the loyalty network, updating every ledger simultaneously. Loyalty participants can validate the new transaction and link them to older transactions, creating a strong, secure, and verifiable record of all transactions, without the need for intermediaries or centralized databases. However, for security and privacy of loyalty programs, it may be logical to design a closed-loop rewards program, where only those parties involved in the loyalty program, issuers and merchants, would be allowed, which resembles a private or a permissioned blockchain.
If you can visualize, in loyalty platform backed by blockchain, the points associated with the rewards systems can be deposited by the issuer in a customer crypto wallet that would be available to immediately spend at any of the merchants that accept that cryptocurrency and participate in that closed blockchain. The issuer would no longer need to carry the liability for all unused points on its books, which is estimated at ~10% leakage of rewards that expire and can be written off with no redemption costs. To compensate this blockchain based systems can deliver cost savings in redemption by eliminating the third-party fulfillment function, along with the associated fees for those services. The cardholder would no longer need to log in to the fulfillment website to redeem points for merchandise or travel. Instead, the rewards currency could be used to purchase from any merchant, e-tailer, travel site or brick and mortar that accepts that rewards currency. Presumably, this would be a closed loop of possibilities, to avoid the problems that merchant consortiums such as Plenti had to deal with. Each merchant would then need to balance their prices, in the rewards cryptocurrency, in order to increase the potential for the cardholder to spend with them, but still maximize profitability. The inefficiencies arising from the issuer paying fees to a third party could be put back towards the issuer’s reward program, the payback for giving up the “breakage”. This, in turn, would allow the issuer to increase its rewards.
One would think now about how to handle a sporadic crypto price fluctuations? One way to address this is by keeping the rewards currency, not as a tradeable token on exchanges making the blockchain a permissioned network allowing only issuers who participate in the program, and merchants who are willing to redeem could be nodes keeping the expense and time delay of each transaction to reasonable costs and near-real-time. The participating nodes can be designed to perform a proof-of-cooperation calculation to maintain the integrity of the transaction.
To sum it up, leveraging customer loyalty blockchain platform, the issuer no longer sets redemption ratios in the future-generation model of card rewards & redemption, removing any ambiguity as to what each reward point is worth. This allows merchants to price their goods at market rate to encourage purchase, removing hidden markups and resulting in loyalty truly becoming a currency.
Refer to Part II @