If loyalty is the coveted grail of retailers when it comes to consumers — in other words, that sticky relationship that keeps ‘em buying — how to score points? Literally. As in points that are accrued and redeemed and which keep both merchants and consumers happy.
Readers of this space know that $160 billion in rewards points goes unredeemed, currency that does not get cashed in. And yet, technology might act as salve and savior when it comes to getting consumers to boost traffic in-store and online, making it easier for consumers to find what they want, when they want it.
To that end, Bridge2 Solutions has announced Keystone, which it defines as an “all-encompassing SaaS platform for rewards programs” that is mobile-first and allows members to redeem their points with flexibility across a variety of categories and across multiple channels.
Similarly, integrating with the platform, Bridge2 has said banks, hotels, airlines and virtually any industry which issues rewards points can take advantage of customized programs and pricing.
Bridge2 Solutions Chief Commercial Officer Larry Wine told PYMNTS in an interview that software platforms, such as the one being offered by his firm, address what doesn’t work when it comes to redemptions, which he defined as a two-pronged challenge.
Part of what is wrong with redemptions is the array of offerings, he said, while the other part lies with technology constraints. Both feed off one another to make the redemption process rather sub-optimal.
He cited “the usual suspect of offerings” among Tier 1 programs, where sponsors may emphasize certain things, such as cash back and statement credits, over other offerings that embrace travel, merchandise or gift cards.
Against that backdrop, firms offering rewards have a “disparate technology footprint” tied to several vendors. “This makes it difficult to be nimble, to scale, to execute” rewards programs efficiently, he told PYMNTS.
On the rewards side of the equation, said the executive, the headwinds that exist from a program sponsor’s perspective, which emphasize cash back and statement credit, become “a race to the bottom,” as financial institutions (FIs), Tier 1 programs, airlines and others struggle to differentiate themselves by value proposition.
How to solve the underwhelming experience of limited choices for consumers and a tough competitive environment for firms offering rewards?
Unified platforms make all the difference, he told PYMNTS, with the overarching theme that “it doesn’t matter where I am, what time of day I’m executing, what type of device I am on (tablet or laptop). Being unified means the graphical user experience and interface is familiar and consistent” across redemption activities.
Thus, when consumers are using one unified platform, such as Keystone — which supports all product types, from travel to gift cards to merchandise and a unique Apple shopping experience — they can find what they want and need not sift across “a bunch of stuff that they are not interested in or it is presented to them in such a way that search relevancy is horrible” and users are presented with dozens or hundreds of SKUs they do not want.
The experience of a successfully unified redemption platform, said the executive, is one that mimics the “surprise and delight” that comes when someone is shopping online and then goes to execute in-store pickup or has next-day shipping in place.
By way of example, in the travel space, he said, and in a redemption continuum that is omnichannel in its approach, a consumer can book online and be served offline, with the converse in place too, where consumers can book offline and be serviced online. A consumer, he said, could be thinking about a trip three months away, and, upon looking through itineraries, move through the selection process to redeem and conduct a purchase online.
But what if, for example, a surprise snowstorm makes such a trip impossible? At that point, Wine said, “the ability to [deal] with that with a white glove, concierge live agent who is a Bridge2 employee [is] and trained … to assist and delight you” makes all the difference in tempering disappointment and easing the process of rebooking.
This level of service is applicable to any category of redemption that may be desired, he said, and can involve a mix of credit cards or cash point values tied to loyalty redemptions. And, he added, the company uses its own employees to facilitate the redemption process, extending the value premise of the program sponsor’s brand, especially for FIs, where their card may be top-of-wallet for some users.
Moving forward, the focus is initially on Tier 1 large program sponsorships — most notable among them FIs, airlines and hotels. Bridge2 is also moving its reach for Keystone internationally “into every major macro region in the world.” Other initiatives will include corporate incentive programs.
The most immediate challenges, he said, lie in making sure that capability awareness is in place for program sponsors. “You have to be respectful that companies have made certain investments, and when you are going through a disruption or displacement model, those things take time. Savvy program managers understand that a superior user experience, which is fast, easy, and relevant, will drive increased profitability and loyalty to their brand.”