Technology gets carded

Esso points, Petro points, Shopper’s Drug Mart Optimum card, Air Miles – the list of reward program cards available to the Canadian consumer is pretty lengthy, but one company hopes to stand out among all the others.

Visible Result’s GraphiCard is a little bit different in that it has a screen as part of the card and users’ points totals are automatically updated and displayed after every swipe.

GraphiCard, which is just now being distributed in Canada by Toronto-based PointSite Inc., uses thermal imaging to take data from the magnetic stripe and transfer it to the screen on the card, which remains only as thick as a playing card, said Farhan Merchant, CEO of PointSite Inc.

Merchant added that PointSite will be trying to incorporate its online rewards program solution into GraphiCard. PointSite’s solution will create an online piggy bank where points collected, whether from purchasing or filling out a survey or clicking on a banner ad, will be accumulated until the consumer wants to trade them in for catalogue items.

“For Acme music site, we would set up the program for users who buy Acme music and get points. They would then turn around and get a Discman from an Acme catalogue, although in the background, we have set all of that up,” Merchant said.

He said a number of PointSite clients had asked if they could handle the offline versions of their loyalty programs. “At that time we were not able to offer the offline retail card-based type loyalty program. We researched the industry and found Visible Results out of New Zealand. Primarily what attracted us to them was their technology was something we’d never seen before.”

Merchant noted that PointSite’s loyalty program can be integrated into the retail side through GraphiCard.

“We thought GraphiCard was unique, especially for tying in the Web. Now we can combine Web wireless and offline into one solution,” he said.

Terry Johnson, director of marketing for Miller Oil Co. said his company had been looking for a loyalty rewards program and the GraphiCard intrigued him because it was something that a lot of his company’s customers may not have seen before.

“We thought the ability to communicate with the customer every time was a good hook. You end up with a database hat gives you the opportunity to retain customers down the road,” he said.

The grey or thermal area on the card takes up about three-quarters of the area. That is divided into three areas. One to give the user a points tally, one for a promotion or contest – such as match and win – and one for advertising.

Johnson said customer feedback has been very positive for the offline solution. He added that Norfolk, Va.-based Miller Oil is hoping to revamp its Web site and add the new rewards program onto it.

“We should be using our Web site to sell people on our program and to enrol them…We are hoping to take advantage of those capabilities soon,” he said.

Brandi Dixon, general manager for Visible Results USA in Overland Park, Kan., said not many customers are thinking in an off- and online way.

“We can allocate program members a login ID and password to access information on the retail Web site. They could access the details they provided on their enrolment form, which they will be able to update, and their reward and transaction history, which they cannot update,” she said.

Dixon added users will be able to fill out any surveys, or access information about the program from the site.

“The second scenario (for online use) is when members may collect points form other sources as well – for example they may earn points through their GraphiCard by shopping in a retail store and then earn other points by responding to surveys, or purchasing something through the retailers’ site.

“In this case, they would see all of the information, but the use of the GraphiCard would change,” Dixon said. “We would no longer display total points on the card face. Instead, their total points would be displayed on the Web site and would be an accumulation of all of the points-earning activities. In this way we could offer a reward catalogue on the Web site and they could also redeem their points there.”

Dixon said Canada would be very open to this type of rewards program.

“I think from what I’ve seen of Canadians’ and the Canadians I’ve met, they’re very similar in all of their mindset to New Zealanders. It’s been interesting working with Farhan through all of this. There are a lot of similarities,” she said, pointing to Canadians’ quick adoption of the debit card as one example.

Howard Grosfield, manager of the Toronto office for the Boston Consulting Group, wasn’t sure if this type of loyalty program would be quick to take off.

“Stating first that I have never seen this product, would a loyalty program like this be desirable in Canada? Yes. It’s already evidenced in the marketplace,” he said, using the example of bank reward systems run through Visa cards.

“Is there a competitive advantage to having this neat display on the cards themselves?” he asked. “It just sounds inherently expensive. If you put yourself in the shoes of the customer, do they care about getting points? Or do they care about getting points in an interesting way?”

However, Johnson said his customers are reacting really positively to the card.

“Customers are amazed that the card actually changes,” he said.

The cards are generally good for about 500 swipes, according to Dixon. She noted that the magnetic strips will carry the information the customers filled out when applying for the card as well as transaction information.

“Once people understand what we use the information for, to gear campaigns to them, to make them relevant offers and not flood them with a lot of offers they’re not interested in, giving out information and having data collected becomes more acceptable.”

The GraphiCard system starts at $20 per day, per terminal.