Large companies have long benefited from customer loyalty programs, while small businesses continue to find the cost and implementation challenges too daunting. Belly, a Chicago-based software company, would like to change that.
With its Belly App, the company aims to provide a way for small businesses to implement robust loyalty programs at little cost and with virtually no implementation hassle. Belly, the profile of this Fast Company article, wants to offer small businesses the benefits of their data, something that large businesses like Starbucks already have because of loyalty programs. It wants to provide them the ability to understand their best customers, and determine how to motivate and incent them based on their behavior.
Most small businesses resort to the familiar punch card as a way to reward customer loyalty. However, these programs can be cumbersome for consumers, who often lose or forget their cards. And they tell retailers nothing about the consumers, since they use the punch cards anonymously. The Belly App makes the loyalty program much easier for consumers to participate in, and far more valuable for retailers.
Consumers at Belly merchants can access their accounts by entering a phone number or by tapping their registered smartphones. When they make purchases at Belly merchants, the company records the information for the merchants' use. Merchants can profile customer shopping behavior and reach out to them as appropriate with coupons and store updates.
Belly also provides real-time, just-for-fun rewards like "kiss the lobster" at a gourmet fish market or "punch the clerk" at a comic book store. I'm not sure if consumers get anything more than a chuckle out of these incentives, but Belly CEO Logan LaHive told FastCompany he feels they add another dimension to its service. Belly also offers consumers the added benefit of having to register only once. Their Belly account is good at any merchant displaying the Belly logo -- so no more multiple key ring cards or punch cards to tote around, and lose.
When a merchant signs up, a personal Belly consultant sets up its account -- taking all the work out of implementing a loyalty program. Merchants pay a small monthly fee of between $50 and $100 for the service, which provides them access to all their analytics and their database of consumers. Belly also provides a free trial period for businesses to explore the opportunity before committing, and all businesses receive a personalized consultation on developing their specific program and its goals.
Belly provides small businesses lacking in resources the ability to harness the power of their client data, leverage their purchasing patterns, and reward their customers while influencing behavior. But big retailers are apparently interested, too. In April, LaHive told the Chicago Tribune that the company's technology is in place at more than 5,000 locations in 15 metropolitan areas. "About 10 percent of that network is enterprise clients, or large chains with multiple locations," the Tribune reports. Among those big retailers with Belly at some locations are McDonald's, Subway, Domino's Pizza, Chick-fil-A, and 7-Eleven.
But LaHive told the Tribune that the company is still focused on the small fries. He said: "We view the enterprise channel (as) completely additive. It's additional team members, infrastructure and growth on top of what we consider our core."
So the question is, will solutions like Belly help level the playing field for small businesses? And another: Will they enable small businesses to make data-based decisions and run their businesses based on their client needs? Or will the data collected turn into yet another data repository?