When we started Loyalzoo in early 2013, we had the initial sense that a loyalty app aimed at independent merchants could at the same time do a lot to help the high street. Why not do something practical, using the latest technology, to help save such a charming feature of town and village life in this country?
The beauty of the Loyalzoo app is that it is good both for the individual trader and for all the traders in the area that use it. It works because it strengthens the bonds of affinity that make a neighbourhood a living organism. People go to their local shops not just for the services they offer but also because it is a pleasant experience and gives them some feeling of familiar conviviality, the vague but very necessary sense that they are living together with others. A retail park or an out-of-town shopping centre is the exact opposite of that: you could go there for a hundred lifetimes over and always remain a stranger.
Mobile phones can often isolate people from each other – who has not at some point launched an app or checked in on their Facebook friends in order to remove themselves from an awkward social situation? But mobile technology could also be used to bring a neighbourhood closer. When a customer has a loyalty programme with one shop it creates a bond between the customer and the shop. If the customer has a number of loyalty programmes running with a group of shops and all those programmes are held electronically in one place, that is a network of loyalty programmes that all reinforce each other. The customer for example, might be going to her local coffee shop, but sees on her phone that one more spend at the drycleaners and her next clean is free, so she decides to leave in that suit that she needs repaired. Everybody gains something.
Exhorting people to use the high street is great, but the best way to get customers back to the high street is to give them a powerful incentive. Sociability is increased not by passing laws and launching big government initiatives but by facilitating millions of small insignificant actions between people, by making it easier for them to do the things which they wanted to do in the first place. Mobile technology gives us the means to increase that sociability. Let’s use it.