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Mobile convenience and one-step loyalty enrolment

19 February 2009  |  3800 views  |  0

Ok here’s what I’ve been working on. The patent was filed this week, so I can finally talk about it.

Taggo is deigned to add mobile tap and go convenience and one-step enrolment to existing loyalty and rewards card programs in a very simple and cost-effective way.

See the 15 minute presentation with audio here.

Faced with the growing proliferation of loyalty cards offering points accumulation, cash back and discounts, retailers are finding it more and more difficult to convince customers to apply for their card and join the retailer’s loyalty program. Many customers already have too many cards in their wallets and prefer not to enroll in new programs. Customers that are already enrolled often leave many of their cards home, causing them to miss out on discounts.

The current method of enrolling customers consists of requiring them to fill out a loyalty card application form, sometimes accompanied by an initial payment or processing fee. The application form can be dropped off at one of the retailer’s stores, the application is processed and the card is sent to the customer by mail. The form can sometimes be filled out at a dedicated service counter in the store and the application processed immediately, allowing the card to be delivered to the customer on the spot so it can be used immediately. Drawbacks with the current methods include the hassle of filling out forms for each loyalty programme, waiting to receive cards in the mail, waiting for the card to be prepared at a service counter, as well as carrying additional cards in one’s wallet.

Many companies are developing ways to use mobile phones to replace all the cards in one’s wallet. An obvious solution is for retailers to re-design their loyalty programs to use the customer’s mobile number as the loyalty card number. But customers that already have the retailer’s existing loyalty card need to somehow transfer their benefits balance to their new mobile phone number ID, and, worse, retailers are required to modify their loyalty card numbering schemes to recognize mobile phone number IDs, something which is often difficult for retailers to do if their loyalty system has been in use for some time. A more elegant solution would be to allow customers to use their existing loyalty card numbers, with no change to the retailer’s numbering scheme, simplifying the process for both customers and retailers. In addition, and more to the point of why Taggo was created, these solutions still require customers to fill out forms and register for each retailer’s program individually, so there is no improvement on current enrollment practices.

Mobile phones equipped with contactless “tap and go” technology offer another partial solution. Referred to as NFC (Near Field Communications) this technology promises to convert mobile phones into payment devices that can replace all the cards in one’s wallet. There are currently two ways of implementing tap and go functionality on mobile phones. One way is to provide small stickers embedded with an NFC chip, that can be attached to mobile phones, while another way is to include the NFC chip as a built-in feature provided with the phone, much like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities. Both solutions offer some promise, yet both currently fall short of solving the problems addressed by the present invention.

NFC stickers always broadcast the same unique ID, which is essentially the same ID that retailers would normally include on their existing cards. NFC stickers provide a similar solution to that provided by barcodes on loyalty cards and key fobs, as the NFC sticker broadcasts a unique ID similar to a barcode account number. NFC stickers are sometimes even referred to as “NFC barcodes”, even though there is no actual barcode on the stickers. Current NFC sticker solutions (and even barcode solutions) do not simplify and streamline enrolment, as customers must still go through the normal membership application process consisting of filling out and submitting separate form for each retailer and waiting to receive each retailer’s sticker, fob, wristband, etc., and even attaching multiple stickers to a mobile phone. These solutions are simply a different form factor for existing plastic card based programs.

In summary, the practical utility of NFC stickers is currently limited:
Cards, stickers, tags, key fobs, etc., one for each retailer’s programme, need to be physically created and delivered to customers.

Multiple stickers need to be attached to the mobile phone, one for each program.

It is impossible to add new programmes to a phone without adding new stickers.

The enrolment process remains the same, since customers must enrol in each retailer’s programme.

Another partial solution consists of NFC chips built into phones and linked to “mobile wallet” applications that customers download into their phones for payment cards, loyalty cards, coupons and other information. The NFC chip inside the phone is more flexible than NFC stickers, for two reasons: a) the NFC chip inside the phone communicates with the mobile wallet application loaded in the phone’s memory, and b) the NFC chip can be caused to broadcast a different ID, depending on the virtual card that is being presented to a retailer’s point of sale reader.

Personalizing phones over the air with new applications has proven to be quite difficult. Many customers do not have Internet access built into their phones, and most of those that do, have never actually learned to load applications over the air. One solution has been to pre-load applications when the phone is delivered, but then only new customers can benefit.

Mobile wallets require NFC contactless chip capabilities to be built into phones and cannot function with NFC stickers, so they are limited to the few phone models with NFC built in. This is because the mobile wallet application communicates with the retailer’s point of sale system through the integrated NFC chip, broadcasting the customer’s card number for that retailer, rather than the single unique ID that is broadcast by NFC stickers. Since virtually no phones on the market currently have NFC capabilities built-in, the market for mobile wallets is negligible. And since NFC sticker products are unable to communicate with applications within the phone, there is no possibility to make a mobile wallet function with an add-on NFC sticker. Some combined products are beginning to appear, in which a much larger NFC sticker-type solution also includes Bluetooth connectivity to communicate with applications inside the phone, but these solutions are physically more cumbersome and more expensive than simple, thin NFC stickers.

The need to broadcast a different ID at each retailer creates other problems. The retailer’s card ID needs to be injected into the mobile wallet, creating similar difficulties as with over the air downloading of applications. Furthermore, when paying at the cash register, the customer must first open the mobile wallet application on the phone and browse through the virtual cards stored on the phone to pre-select the applicable one. Instead of fumbling through one’s traditional, physical wallet or purse, mobile wallet solutions now ask customers to fumble through their virtual wallets.

In summary, the practical utility of mobile wallets is limited:
Personalizing phones over the air with new applications or new programme data is very difficult.

There are still a very small number of phones with built-in NFC contactless chips.

Mobile wallets cannot function with low cost NFC stickers because there is no communications capability between the sticker on the phone and the mobile wallet application inside the phone.

Customers at the cash register need to open the mobile wallet application on their phones and pre-select the appropriate virtual card when they pay.

It is doubtful that mobile wallet systems could be easily modified to overcome these drawbacks. Using a mobile phone to replace all the cards in one’s wallet has been something of a holy grail, and many people have been working on this, yet none of the current solutions avoid the problems described above. None of the existing mobile wallet solution providers even suggest the possibility of an extremely simple enrolment process, as all of these solutions require a physical connection with the phone for downloading new program data. Likewise, none of the NFC sticker solution providers evoke the possibility of using a single sticker for many different independent programs, despite the number of companies working in this area and the many people that must surely be aware of the drawbacks of requiring customers to attach multiple stickers to their phones.

A unique and innovative combination of some parts of each of these types of NFC technologies could be used to produce a simple and elegant solution when also combined with a smarter contactless reader configuration and another, unrelated technology: SMS text based ordering. Many advertisers invite customers to use SMS text messages to participate in promotions, enter sweepstakes, and request samples. Customers are asked to text their name, address and other details to a special number to participate. This technique of ordering products and services and participating in promotions through simple SMS text messaging does not in itself solve the problems addressed by Taggo, but it does provide an element of the solution when combined with some elements of both NFC stickers as well as NFC chips embedded within mobile phones, in addition to enhancements to current contactless reader configurations.

That’s what Taggo delivers.

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