Saturday, 25 September 2010

After 25 years - Amex games card loyalty


Back in 1985 there was a revolution in computing which although small at the time went on to dominate our everyday lives - this revolution was Windows.

For many, Windows 3.1 was the first version that will be remembered and this was also the first version that could be extended to support TCP/IP - or essentially the internet. 

While it has been full-steam ahead for both Windows and the internet since this time, there has also been major change with the likes of Apple and Google increasingly innovating - whether this is new operating systems, new hardware or new ways of distributing applications.

There was however another revolution that started 25 years ago - credit card loyalty schemes.

In 1984 Diners Club launched "Club Rewards" which allowed card holders to earn frequent flyer miles or merchandise rewards based on card spend. This was closely followed by Sears who launched the Discover Card. Although quite revolutionary at the time as it had no annual fee, higher credit limits and most importantly for wider acceptance lower merchant fees, the big innovation was the inclusion of a cash-back rewards programme - giving card holders 2% of spend back.

What's interesting however is that while Windows 1.0 would be unrecognisable for many today, the Diners Club and Discover Card loyalty programmes they pioneered are pretty much the same used on all loyalty credit cards today.

In fact the latest programme from Chase called Ultimate Rewards has all of these features including a new one "Pay Yourself Back" which allows you to offset any qualifying spend on your statement with points - something which is essentially what Discover introduced 25 years ago - namely cash-back.


It was great then to see Amex breaking the mold and doing something different.

Their new scheme Social Currency has partnered with foursquare to allow card holders to check-in to retail stores to share purchases with friends.

Using a dedicated iPhone app, members can then share what they purchased, what they want to purchase and photo's of the event/product.

Keeping with the foursquare gameplay, members are rewarded for taking part with a selection of unique badges based on their behaviour such as the "Thrifty Spender" badge or the "Chinatown" badge.

I've discussed recently that loyalty is changing and that adding a gaming layer to loyalty programmes is one of the most important changes to loyalty in the last 25 years. It's great then to see an industry that once pioneered loyalty now embracing the next phase.

Amex may have been a little late to the party with it's original loyalty offering, "Membership Miles" back in 1991, but it's certainly at the forefront now. I wonder how many other banks will be brave enough to follow suit.