As digital convenience at the cash register has become standard, loyalty platforms have gone digital as well — with a number of companies working to replace the punchcards many merchants have long issued to reward regulars. Belly, whose service revolves around an in-store iPad, has grown into a major player in this space over the past half-decade, taking in nearly $25 million in venture funding to build out its customizable rewards program that integrates social and email marketing. During that time the company has moved from an initial focus on small businesses to include national multi-location brands, and now connects over 12,000 businesses with over 7 million members across the country.
Logan LaHive, Belly’s co-founder and CEO, will be a featured speaker at Street Fight Summit West on June 7th in San Francisco. Street Fight caught up with LaHive recently to talk about Belly’s journey, how location and loyalty don’t necessarily go hand in hand, and why beacons may be a bit overhyped.
Tell me a little about Belly’s backstory and evolution.
Belly is a customer loyalty SaaS platform building CRM solutions for businesses of every size. We initially got our start back in 2011 building customer loyalty programs for small businesses. At that time, there were about 30 other startups trying to build loyalty solutions for SMBs. We saw many challenges in the space and spent a lot of time talking to business owners trying to figure out how to solve their loyalty needs. Through these conversations we tested and iterated on a variety of product offerings.
The iPad was actually an execution hypothesis and we weren’t entirely sure what would stick until the day we went out and sold our first store, AlleyCat Comics. I set up an iPad with the Belly Merchant app on it and stood in the back of the store. First, three customers signed up. Then, two young women came in together, and one made a purchase and signed up for Belly. She showed her friend one of AlleyCat’s rewards — “Punch The Owner In The Gut.” Now this reward wasn’t attempting to be quirky for quirk’s sake; it was a reward we knew would resonate with AlleyCat’s customers because the store itself had posters on the walls of superheroes punching their arch nemeses. Because this reward fit so well with the personality of AlleyCat, it prompted the other girl to purchase a comic book so she too could sign up for AlleyCat’s loyalty program. That’s when I thought, “Maybe we’re onto something.”
Is the program designed for a particular type of merchant?
Belly started off in small businesses — cupcake shops, boutique stores, dog groomers, to name a few — and has expanded to include global national brands in retail and food service. … We provide our merchants with the tools they need to run their loyalty and marketing solution so that they can attract and retain loyal customers. They can customize their program to fit their business, whether that’s setting up automatic email campaigns to bring lapsed customers back in to simply using Belly as a digital loyalty punch card. Businesses can even offer free rewards to customers within the Belly Network who haven’t visited their store yet as a way to incentivize them to come in.
Belly’s enterprise solution is built for brands and the entire experience can be customized to fit each brand’s established personality. We provide large enterprises with a platform which they can use to intelligently build customer relationships by way of unique loyalty experiences. With an omni-channel approach to loyalty, brands can reach their customers at every touchpoint — in-store iPad, iBeacon, push notifications, etc. — to drive loyalty and keep them engaged.
On the consumer side (who we call Members), Belly is their rewards card/app at all their favorite places. They check in at the Belly iPad to earn points for rewards. They can use the Belly app for search and discovery to find new businesses near them that are part of the Belly Network.
How do you appeal to both large chains and to small businesses at the same time?
Starting in SMB allowed Belly to create an out-of-the-box solution for small businesses to run a completely customized loyalty program. They could design a loyalty program, send email campaigns and activate marketing automation along with access to an iPad, Belly cards — basically everything a business needs right off the shelf. What we saw was that the core infrastructure of Belly (access to member profiles, customer segmentation tools and marketing automation) could be offered to every business, no matter the size.
Large enterprises are stuck with a choice to either scale in engineering and build the tools they need themselves, or they can partner with antiquated tech companies still working with a code base that is pre-mobile era. …
Our SMB product includes Belly’s digital loyalty program with CRM marketing tools and access to our established consumer network of over 7 million Belly Members. Our enterprise platform enables design, deployment and optimization of an omni-channel solution that’s also uniquely tailored to each enterprise brand.
How have you seen location-based technology and customer loyalty programs intersecting?
I know these conferences love to talk about location-based technology and beacons; it’s all the rage. But as of today, it’s a little bit overhyped. We consider beacon tech an additional channel of communication so that businesses can identify when customers are inside a store and target them with special offers. We understand that large brands want to keep a pulse on this latest channel but at this time we don’t see location-based tech and loyalty programs going hand-in-hand.
Where do you envision customer loyalty programs going and how can small businesses stay relevant and top of mind using them?
Innovation doesn’t take place within the loyalty program. Loyalty programs have to evolve and change to keep up with commerce, payment types, storefronts, etc. The purpose of a loyalty program is to capture customer information so that it can be used as a device to bring customers back more often.
Businesses and brands need to realize that not every app earns the “right” to be on the home screen of a customer’s mobile device. Therefore as the state of mobile changes, there is more value in becoming part of a larger network — the Belly network of businesses — so that customers can still access the unique in-store experiences being offered.
Nicole Spector is a contributor to Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hear more from Belly’s Logan LaHive at our upcoming conference on June 7th in San Francisco. Click on the icon below for tickets!