Mobile Loyalty and Cross Merchant Apps – An Interview with the CEO of Perka

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Mobile loyalty for the small to medium business (SMB) certainly seems to be coming of age.   After a few years of numerous companies floundering, as they tried to implement apps,  a few programs are starting to look like they have the legs to go the next mile, but the niche is hardly well established.   The only national loyalty program that everyone knows about and actually uses is the Starbucks program, and that is specific to a brand –not something a small merchant can participate in and ride their coattails. 
Mobile loyalty company Perka was recently acquired by First Data – a twenty four thousand person company serving over six million merchants.   I spoke with Perka CEO Alan Chung about the acquisition and what it meant for Perka’s ability to compete and grow, and also sought his thoughts on the mobile loyalty space.  Here are some of his observations: 
AC:“Nobody has taken clear leadership yet [ of the mobile loyalty space].  It’s going to be more of distribution and scale.  With First Data having relationships with over six million merchants, it makes it much easier to have that conversation with retailers.  Starbucks is the guiding star.  It’s funny, because they are not a tech company, but their success on the smartphone is unparalleled.  By far, they are they leader. ”  
“The key things that are not succeeding is that the consumer does not find it sufficiently compelling to use the program.  The Starbucks loyalty program has traction, whereas others do not. We want to bring Starbucks like benefits to the merchants.”     
“Nobody has taken clear leadership… it’s not the technology….it’s more of distribution and scale…    with First Data having relationships with over 6 million merchants… it makes it a lot easier to have that conversation.”   
“The concept is easiest to sell to the coffee shop or similar businesses with high frequency customers who are now using punch cards.  Instead of selling them on it, they already believe in it.   With paper punch cards, you have no idea who the customer is.” 
 
“In the last 2 years,  smart phone usage has gone up, customer awareness has gone up.  We started with mom and pop, but today a lot of interest comes from medium to large businesses.” perka
Two things that caught my attention: 
I downloaded Perka and have been using it.  It’s a clean app, loads fast (quite a bit faster than Foursquare), simple to navigate through.  Just one slight problem, there are very few merchants in my area that are supporting the app – and none that I have ever been to.  They are not close enough to me to warrant visiting their stores.  I’m sure more merchants will materialize next year. 
Another noticeable weakness of Perka was the failure to use a domain name to match the product name.   Sadly, this is common in business.  The company has been operating under the domain www.getperka.com.    But, it’s a bad thing when I have to use a search tool to find their website.   Anyway – that will soon be remedied as, Chung says that they are in the process of acquiring the Perka domain and that the website will be moved shortly. 
Perka has 1,300 merchants using the program now, but envisions adding tens of thousands as they grow.  It’s compelling to be able to have just one loyalty app in the phone, instead of ten or fifteen. 
The Starbucks loyalty program has a mobile wallet – a feature that Perka does not yet have, but expects to see in the next year.   As I recall my own behavior, the moment that wallet for Starbucks became available, my use of the Starbucks loyalty program went from being sporadic, to 100%. 
Perka now integrates with Clover POS– a product also owned by First Data,  but the goal is to work wtih as many POS companies as possible and Chung would love to talk to any and all of them.  
You can find Perka at  www.getperka.com  or download their free app to your phone from the usual places. It’s worth a look! 

Written by Craig Aberle

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