I met with Portugese firm Cardmobili yesterday. I went into the meeting with a vague recollection that its app had something to do with storing loyalty cards on your phone, and was asking myself how this could work, in terms of how many of the thousands of loyalty cards out there they could have covered off. bThis, to me, seemed crucial, for if I have five loyalty cards, but I can only manage two of them through Cardmobili’s iPhone, Android, WinPhone7 and Java apps, then I’m probably not going to bother. But as CEO Helena Leite and co-founder Carlos Oliveria explained how it worked to me, it became clear how clever Cardmobili’s approach is.
Because the way it’s set up, it doesn’t need any commitment, or indeed agreement, from the retailer. CardMobili has uploaded the details of 1,600 loyalty cards onto its platform. As a new user, you go to the app or the website and search for the card you want, enter your name and card number, and that’s it. All the details are then stored in the cloud, but available on your phone, so you can throw the plastic loyalty card in the bin, and then each time you shop with that retailer, just show them the digital version of your card. The retailer will key in your card number, or, if there is a deeper integration with the retailer in question, the salesperson on the till may be able to scan it as a barcode. If the card you want is not in Cardmobili’s system, you can add it yourself, and if it meets the necessary criteria, the company will add it to its own database for future users to find.
Now clever as this is, there are a couple of obvious, apparent stumbling blocks. The first is the retailer who realises what Cardmobili is doing with its loyalty card one day and, instead of seeing the opportunity, gets annoyed at the fact they have done it without any prior approval or permission. Leite was candid enough to admit that this has happened, but says that in most cases, when Cardmobili explains that it is merely trying to make things easy for the retailer’s customers, most of them get it. And if they don’t, Cardmobili removes the card in question from its platform.
The second problem is the sales staff, presented with a mobile version of a loyalty card that they have never seen before and that they didn’t even know existed, who throw up their hands in confusion and say: “We can’t accept this.” Again, Leite explained, the solution is beautifully simple. “The consumer just needs to say: ‘Forget I ever showed you the thing on my phone, let’s pretend I have forgotten my loyalty card, but I know the number’” she told me. At which point, the salesperson on the till just enters the card number, and job done.
But while phase 1 of Cardmobili’s offering has been executed without much engagement with the retail community, that is changing now, as the company moves into phase 2. Here, it is seeking to engage with “5 – 10 per cent” of the 1,600 retailers whose loyalty cards it has mobilised, in order to roll out vouchers to the merchants’ loyalty card holders on their phones. Phase 3, a little further down the line, will be to use Cardmobili not only as a loyalty and offers platform, but as a mobile payment mechanism too.
Vouchering rolls out early May, and will include location-based offers from individual retailers on Cardmobili’s own platform, plus others sourced from multiple vouchering platforms in each territory. The company says it is talking to Groupon, VoucherCloud, Couponstar and BView, among others, with a view to making Cardmobili a one-stop-shop for mobile vouchers, so that consumers do not have to refer to three or four different apps each time they want to see what offers are out there for them.
The iPhone, Android and WinPhone7 versions of the Cardmobili app will generate notifications to users of new offers, or offers that are about to expire, at the rate of “a few a week” according to Leite.
The company has only just embarked on this journey of trying to integrate with the retailers in its community (even if most of them didn’t know they were in it, or even that there was one). It has closed a few deals in Portugal, and believes it will be helped by the fact that when it meets with a retailer, it can tell them that x per cent of its loyalty cardholders are using the Cardmobili version of its loyalty card. On user numbers, Cardmobili does not release them, but Leite told me the company’s user base is in 29 countries, and is growing at the rate of 15 per cent month-on-month. Unlike the days of the dotcom boom, users are not being recruited by prime-time TV advertising, but social media and viral marketing. Cardmobili has 5,000 Facebook fans, for example.
Operators have also promoted Cardmobili on their app stores, and via SMS campaigns to their customers. The company is also, not surprisingly, trying to negotiate pre-load deals with some of the bigger operators – Vodafone would seem obvious, as Cardmobili won last year’s Vodafone Clicks competition.
When asked about competition Oliveira concedes that there are likely to be other companies “following in our footsteps”, but Cardmobili obviously has a good lead over anyone else trying to play in its space. The mobile vouchering sector is getting very crowded; if it can succeed in aggregating vouchers, tying them to retailers’ loyalty programs, and involving itself in the payment process too, it could be on to a winner.