Have a look in your purse or wallet right now. Chances are that you have more than one loyalty card in there. You probably also have a few punch cards tracking your purchases as you work your way towards a discount or that free coffee or sandwich at your favourite local shop. For example, my own wallet holds five different loyalty cards as well as a punch card for my favourite local coffee place. Now imagine that you could do away with most of those cards and use a single card to track all this. Imagine that you could also have an app on your mobile device telling you exactly what rewards are available from your local merchants and how far you are from each.
This is exactly what the new loyalty program called Vicinity is hoping to achieve. Launched back in May by Rogers Communications, it gives customers a single card to use across multiple merchants while giving small and medium businesses in Canada the ability to run their own customized rewards program while simplifying much of its management.
Rogers was kind enough to send me a card loaded with some freebies so I took it for a spin.
A closer look at Vicinity
Vicinity is the name under which Rogers brought the loyalty automation platform built by US-based FiveStars to Canada. The card is pretty ordinary except for one small detail: Like a growing number of other cards, it is NFC-enabled.
When visiting a participating merchant, you simply have to tap your card on their Vicinity terminal during your purchase to earn points towards rewards. If you don’t have your card with you, you can also simply provide the phone number to which the card is tied.
Don’t have a card? You should be able to simply pick one up at your next visit at a participating merchant. Provide them with your telephone number and within moments you should be in business.
On the consumer side, once registered for the Vicinity rewards card, customers simply use it like they would any other loyalty card. Rewards are tracked on a per merchant basis. This means that one card can be used with multiple merchants, cutting down on individual cards. Customers also have access to a mobile app and website that lets them know where participating merchants are located, what rewards they offer and customer progress in getting these rewards.
As for merchants, Vicinity eliminates the need of building and managing a rewards program thanks to an established turnkey loyalty platform. Vicinity integrates into their point-of-sale systems and offers reporting tools and dashboards that track offers, points, and ROI. Not only does the administration get simpler but they also benefit from a rewards program taht will only get more familiar to customers as more merchants join.
Using the card
For my first trial, I launched the Vicinity app on my Android smartphone to see what participating merchants were nearby. In need of a caffeine fix, I decided to go to Dark City Coffee after seeing that it was not too far. Once there, I placed my order and swiped my card on the reader next to the cashier. A beep later and I was sitting down enjoying my coffee. A short time later, the app showed that I had a few points to spend on my next reward:
Claiming rewards when you have earned enough points is just as easy. One word of advice: Mention to the cashier that you want to cash in a reward as not every staff person will let you know that you have enough points for a reward.
Using the app
The Vicinity app is available for both Android and iOS devices through their respective app stores. For the purposes of this review, I used the Android version.
Initial setup is straightforward with your mobile phone number acting as your user ID in most cases. If not, Vicinity will provide you with a user ID that you can then tie to your app.
The app itself is pretty simple. It is location-driven and knows where you are (either using GPS or GSM localization) so that it can present location-relevant information. For example, chance are that I will not be interested in merchants in North Toronto if I’m downtown. It essentially provides all the information you need via two columns, Rewards and Locations.
The first one focuses on your current rewards. It lists merchants where you are already accumulating points. The information can be sorted by Visits, Business Name, or Distance.
For each merchant, you will see available rewards, the number of points needed to claim each reward as well as your progress against each reward. A full green bar and you are ready to claim your reward. In the screenshot above, I’ve got rewards waiting for me at Dark Horse Espresso Bar and Beachside Grill.
The Locations column offers a list of all participating retailers, not just those where you are already collecting. Like the Rewards tab, you will see a list of rewards as well as the number of points needed for each. The benefit of this column is that you can easily discover other local merchants participating in the Vicinity program and quickly see what rewards they offer.
From the Locations column, you can switch to a map view. It shows you where retailers are located using pins. Tap on the pin once and you get the address. A second tap takes you to the location details. As it is location-driven, it is an easy way to see what’s around you and how to get there. It would be nice to have a bit more information at first glance to avoid having to tap on each pin to find out more about it.
The app also lets you know just how far a merchant is from your current location. That’s how I was able to decide to go to Dark Horse on my first expedition. Surprisingly, I found that the feature was not as reliable as it should be. As I walked towards it, the distance did not update. Even stranger was that the Dark Horse location I made it to disappeared entirely while I was there. Oddly enough, other Dark Horse locations still showed up. Even shutting the app down and restarting it would not add my current location. On another visit, there was no such problem.
From time to time, you may receive bonus points through promotions or contests. When you do, a notification will let you know:
You then have the ability to assign these to different merchants. In my case, I was able to assign one bonus point to three merchants of my choice.
The app offers very little additional functionality. Even something as simple as displaying your card number (it does not necessarily have to be tied to your phone number after all) is not offered. Mine may be a more unusual case but it’s unlikely to be the only one.
If there is one thing I would like to see added to the app, it is NFC support. A growing number of smartphones now offer this capability and it would eliminate the need to carry the Vicinity card altogether. With the investments that Rogers is making in digital wallets, perhaps this will be added in a future update.
Another area where the app can be improved is the user interface. In particular, the greeting box on the Rewards tab looks like something that was added at the last minute and, put simply, looks ugly. It looks like something that chould be dismissed somehow.
It would not take much to incorporate this more seamlessly into the app.
The app also comes with a settings section. You’ll find that there really is not anything to customize though. The only options are to log out or email the Vicinity support team in case of issues. Perhaps a future update will let us customize the types of merchants we are interested in and those we don’t want to see. For example, being follicly-challenged, I have little use for barbers.
The app is only available for Android and iOS devices. Fortunately, for those with other devices, Vicinity also has a website that offers the same functionality as well as some additional features such as the ability to manage your account and notifications.
It also includes a mapping feature that lets you explore a neighbourhood and find out more about participating merchants in that area:
- A single card for multiple merchants
- Easy to use
- Mobile app and website to keep track of your rewards
- Mobile app could be improved
- Mobile app only available for Android and iOS
- A greater variety of local merchants would be nice
As a consumer, I like the concept of the Vicinity Rewards program. One card and one app pull together a range of participating merchants , making it easy for me to track my rewards without filling up my wallet with reward cards. Also appealing is the fact that I can easily discover other local merchants participating in the program and quickly find out what they offer. For example, finding out that a gelato store just around the corner is now participating is both good news and bad news.
Even in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, I can easily quickly find out what nearby merchants are participating and easily find them.
The Vicinity mobile app that supports the program is a great complement to the card and website. As it is, it delivers all the necessary information neatly wherever you are. It would benefit from a few enhancements, some as simple as interface tweaks, to become even more useful. It would be nice to see the program also take advantage of NFC as it makes its way onto more smartphones.
As for me, I will continue to use my Vicinity card. I just need to get my local coffee shop onto the program so I can get rid of one more card from my wallet.
Source : Vicinity Rewards