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22 August 2013updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

So how many loyalty cards do you own?

And do you actually use them?

By Douglas Blakey

So how many loyalty or rewards cards do you use regularly? I stress the word regularly. On a quick straw poll of colleagues around the office, wallets and especially purses are full of loyalty cards.

Ask the follow up question of how engaged are workmates with their various rewards programmes and enthusiasm wanes. Consumer behaviour is changing at a rate of knots. In the UK 8 million of us are using our loyalty cards less than we did one year ago, according to figures released by payments processor WorldPay.

I was not greatly surprised to note that as many as 1 in 3 consumers say that they fail to derive any value from their loyalty cards. The reasons are various but include difficulty in spending points and the potential for cards to be lost. I have never forgiven British Airways for its sneaky time bar rules on loyalty points I had accrued.

The Ts and Cs were in the contract right enough – no argument there and it was complete mea culpa – but slashing my balance to zero due to being dilatory in encashing points means that I now choose BA as a last resort. There are a lot of loyalty programmes out there that can at best be described as useless.

For a rewards programme to work, customers need to feel as if loyalty is earned through loyalty to a brand, not through fumbling through their wallet to find a card – so it must be easy to access and spend.

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How might this be achieved?

The survey found that 21 per cent want loyalty cards to be stored on a smartphone payment app – dispense with all cards and have a loyalty scheme tied to your smartphone. That number is, I suggest, set to grow and rise sharply.

A number of payments start-ups are launching mobile wallet apps, offering secure contactless payments via smartphone. Earlier in the summer, Zync launched its mobile wallet and then last week international payment technology firm MPayMe announced a new mobile business platform, dubbed ZNAP.

The service from ZNAP optimises transactions through the bundling of secure multi-channel mobile payments with value added solutions – that means rewards to you and me. I have lost count of the number of tech companies claiming to offer the neatest and most novel way for consumers to pay retailers.

If any of the new payments start-ups are to prosper, they would do well to remember that customers are more likely to use payment apps if they also make it easy to redeem loyalty rewards.  There is also an argument that women could hold the key here – they are by a distance more loyal to brands than men. If marketers can get women using mobile payments, combined with a unique customer experience, they are on to a winner.

But as Jane Cunningham, founder of strategic marketing consultancy Pretty Little Head and co-author of The Daring Book for Boys in Business tells me, too few brands are capable of connecting powerfully with the female market. The winners – and losers – among the new tech payments start-ups will certainly be worth watching and one or two will no doubt prosper. The only safe prediction is that their investors will require patience and deep pockets in the short to medium term.

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