In Card-Linking, Payments
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By Jeff Mankoff

There are two ways that card-linked offers can be delivered, linked and redeemed, and each has very different ramifications for the retailer and customer. First, is what I call cloud card-linking and the second is terminal integrated card-linking. Cloud card-linking is easy to implement and get started, while terminal integrated delivers a better merchant and customer experience. There are four distinct factors to consider:

  1. Is a loyalty program involved?
  2. Where must the customer enroll and link the payment card?
  3. Where is the reward redeemed? and
  4. Is this a coalition or merchant-centric card-linking program?

Today, cloud card-linking is gaining traction for certain players, especially coalitions and credit card issuing banks. The number one benefit of this model is that it requires no merchant terminal integration. To enroll with cloud card-linking, the payment cardholder goes online and links his own payment card to the program, which is why a credit card issuing bank with merchant offers like Bank of America uses this cloud-based model. They already have the credit card numbers on file. With the card associations (MasterCard and Visa) now delivering card-linking cloud based solutions, it is possible for media companies to enroll members online, like Coupons.com and Living Social, or a coalition model like Fuel Rewards. With regards to a merchant-centric card-linked loyalty program, cloud-based card-linking is not a good fit because once the merchant’s customer leaves the point of sale, online enrollment or downloading a card-linking loyalty app becomes problematic.

Cloud-based card-linked offer/rewards can be put back on the credit card statement or converted to another currency like airline miles or fuel rewards. After a card-linked offer is redeemed, an email notification of the redemption in near real-time can be delivered. But because the reward is not redeemed at the merchant, the customer may think the reward program is for the credit card issuing bank, airline reward program or fuel reward program, not the merchant who is funding the reward. Also, if merchant offers are automatically linked to a payment card, incidental card-linked redemptions may take place. Cloud-based card-linking, while a good model for credit card issuing banks and coalition programs, may not be a great model for merchants looking for a merchant-centric program.

Terminal integration card-linking solves many of the cloud-based card-linking’s challenges. First, payment terminals are no longer shy and now proudly face the customer. This means customer-facing terminals can ask customers to enroll in the merchant’s loyalty program.   Card-linked terminal integration takes enrollment one step further, by automatically recognizing if a card is not in the loyalty program and systematically asking every non-member to enroll and link the payment card to a mobile number or email.

Moreover, the merchant’s own card-linked offer and loyalty rewards are redeemed at the merchant’s terminal and reflected on the receipt. There is no question that the reward came from the merchant, making this a merchant-centric program. So if a merchant wants its own card-linking offers and/or reward program, terminal integration is the way to go. Terminal integration is about to become much easier. Watch for card-linking announcements coming soon in the terminal space.

The battle is on.

Terminal Agnostic or Terminal Integrated?

Terminal Agnostic Terminal Integrated
Integration with POS No Yes
Enrollment at POS No Yes
Reward Redeemed at POS No Yes
Receipt Loyalty Message No Yes
Merchant-centric No Yes

Since 1999, Jeff Mankoff has been a pioneering visionary in the card-linked promotions/loyalty industry. Jeff owns patents and pending patent applications encompassing and describing concepts that are key components of the card-linking ecosystem. He is the founder and CEO of vPromos, a card-linking, loyalty and promotions firm. Jeff writes a blog about card-linking at www.jeffmankoff.com and can be reached at jmankoff@vpromos.com.