Business as Usual: J'ville retailers trying out online customer rewards plan
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Jun 18, 2012 | 5335 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A customer uses her SpotOn rewards card last week at Jillybean’s Cupcakes & Ice Cream in Jacksonville. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
A customer uses her SpotOn rewards card last week at Jillybean’s Cupcakes & Ice Cream in Jacksonville. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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JACKSONVILLE — Three retailers here are hoping a new enticement will really hit the spot for some Jacksonville shoppers and university students.

SpotOn, a new Web-based customer rewards program, has established a presence on the public square in the last two weeks, but its biggest venue is slated to kick off this fall as Jacksonville State University becomes the first university to take part in the program.

Customers are already accumulating “spots” at Java Jolt, Wake and Bake Pizza and Coffee Company, and Jillybean’s Cupcakes & Ice Cream through a tablet computer-powered scanning system.

Each time a customer makes a purchase, he can scan his rewards card or a smartphone-generated QR barcode to earn a spot on his account. If customers so choose, they can integrate their SpotOn account with their Facebook profiles, granting them extra reward points and opportunities for exclusive offers. They can also submit a cell phone number that allows the business owner to send text message alerts for store specials.

The social media integration is what drew Jillybean’s owner Jill Waters to Spot-On. Facebook is a key piece of her business-building strategy, she said.

“It’s actually working very well,” Waters said. “I have had almost everyone sign up for it.”

On Thursday, Waters said it had been less than a week since she implemented the new program and she already has 159 rewards members.

Waters has opted to reward loyal customers with a free cupcake after accumulating six spots. For those who are integrated with Facebook, their friends will see when they cash in spots for a reward, thus advertising her business and possibly drawing in new rewards members. The $40 monthly fee that she pays for SpotOn’s equipment and software service seems like a reasonable deal to Waters.

“This is, in my opinion, a better way than just a little punch card,” she said.

Waters said she’s had a lot of customers request a rewards programs, such as the old-fashioned punch cards. She didn’t want to implement such a system, though, because she felt like there is too much room for fraud.

A local representative of SpotOn declined to comment Friday because she did not have clearance from the company.

For the past four years, Jacksonville State officials have been looking for an affordable rewards program to encourage students to engage more in campus life. Angie Finley, a JSU spokeswoman, said that through participation in the National Survey of Student Engagement, the university has learned that its students perform better when they are more engaged.

“We have learned that our students persist, they do better when they come to campus and plug in,” she said. “Once they arrive and build that sense of community, they do better.”

But over the course of the last four years, no viable solutions had been found. An idea to have students swipe their campus ID at events was canned because the card readers were expensive and non-portable. JaxSpots — the pilot program with SpotOn — is set to solve those problems. According to Patricia Hobbs, director of public relations at JSU, under the new program SpotOn will provide tablet computers and rewards cards to the university as part of the monthly fee they charge for the service.

The software dashboard that keeps track of “spots” for customers also gives business owners and JSU access to great amounts of data about who is using the system and how frequently.

Hobbs said the university is in the process of trying to bring student groups on board with the new program, adding their calendar events to the JaxSpots system. At first, she said, all events will be worth one spot each, and as the school tries to build attendance for events, some may be weighted more heavily than others. She said school officials are looking to provide rewards like JSU T-shirts and hoodies at different point thresholds, but they are also trying to be more creative.

Hobbs expects the university to host an event at the end of each semester for students who meet a certain JaxSpots threshold, where there would be food and entertainment, but also the chance to win more and bigger prizes.

University officials took advantage of the two freshmen orientation sessions last week to sign up new students.

“The students that we have signed up and told about this,” she said, “they’re all excited.”
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