#SFSW16: Loyalty is Back, and It’s Big, But It’s Not Cutting-Edge

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Noting a preference for a consumer future more like Cheers than Minority Report, and de-emphasizing technological innovations in the way forward for their businesses, two customer retention pioneers discussed the powerful re-emergence of loyalty that takes an even sharper focus on the very particular preferences of individuals.

“The premise of our business is that in the past you walk into your local business and everybody knows who you are. It is a very familial relational space,”FiveStars CEO Victor Ho in an afternoon panel discussion at Street Fight Summit West. “Our goal is to help these business owners treat every single [customer] as a unique individual. Not long from now it’s either going to be like Minority Report or like Cheers. We want it to be like Cheers.”

Belly CEO Logan LaHive noted that his company had invested heavily in innovative technologies early on in its history. The company was a launch partner with Passbook and worked with Google Wallet, but LaHive says he no longer sees as much value in adopting technology for technology’s sake.

“I don’t believe loyalty is the industry that should be cutting-edge in a lot of these use cases,” LaHive said. “A loyalty program is only effective if it is available to all customers.”

Now, Belly is putting more focus utilizing available customer data and gaining broader acceptance in a crowded market. That means taking advantage of existing artificial intelligence and marketing automation technology, and it also means better understanding who its clients’ customers are, where they buy, where they go, and how weather impacts their purchasing habits.

Loyalty is just one piece of a broader suite for both Belly and FiveStars, to the point where Ho was reluctant to use the word “loyalty” to describe his platform.

“Our goal was to democratize that technology and bring it to the SMB because we saw them being left behind completely,” Ho said.

LaHive agreed, and said there’s currently a downtrend in the perception of being a loyalty business, even though loyalty is making a comeback in the minds of physical retailers. That comeback is due in part to a renewed interest in building sustainable global and digital strategies. As brands talk more about their mobile strategies, they’re realizing that they need to be based on a loyalty program.

“I think that’s helping the conversation in the industry about the value of loyalty program,” he said.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Photo Credit: Shana Wittenwyler

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.