Consider The Loyalty Stamp Card
Restaurant reward programs should unlock magic for their most loyal customers and have the fun visuals to back it up
Who remembers the classic Seinfeld episode in which Elaine becomes obsessed with scoring a free sandwich at Atomic Sub? For those who’ve never seen it, or simply forgotten the episode, a primer below:
The joke, of course, is Elaine being driven mad in the pursuit of a reward she doesn’t even want — a free sub from a place whose food she can only describe as “crap.” Seinfeld’s appeal has always been the outlandish way its four main characters act. But in this particular case, Elaine’s behavior is completely relatable. Who of us hasn’t been ensnared by the prospect of a freebie, if only we make the requisite amount of purchases first?
As Gaurav Sables explains, Elaine falls victim to what economists call Transaction Utility Theory. Developed by Nobel Prize Winning Economist Richard Thaler, Transaction Utility Theory argues that consumers can derive satisfaction from an actual transaction in and of itself, particularly one they believe to be a good deal. Sometimes the deal is indeed good — a steal of a car, a deeply discounted home. Sometimes, however, it is not so good, as was the case with Elaine and her free sub.
But What About The Form Factor?
What the Seinfeld episode misses, however, is the amount of pleasure human’s derive from collecting things. In the digital age, we’ve moved passed stamp cards and other analogue loyalty programs. Instead, we have apps for that, in which points are seamlessly (and almost invisibly) accrued into an account. Sure, a free cup of coffee at Starbucks is a decent perk, but where’s the real pleasure in racking up those points when you’ve got nothing physical or visual to show for it?
From coins to stamps to baseball cards (which recently enjoyed a pandemic boom), people love amassing collections. It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of Americans have some kind of collection. The psychological factors explaining this phenomenon are myriad. Some people collect for a sense of history. Some for access to a social network. Still others simply take pleasure in the control factor of building and curating an enviable collection. Status can be at play. A sign of taste or intelligence, too. Remember flipping through a Case Logic book to admire your CDs? Or how about taking pride in the multicolored spines of tomes lining your bookshelves? Suffice it to say, collecting things we love is baked into human brain chemistry.
To see what we’ve lost to modernity, let’s consider some form factors of historically famous loyalty programs. Be its stamps, box tops, or punch cards, loyalty programs have been around in some way, shape, or form since the dawn of mass consumer culture. S&H Green Stamps pioneered perhaps the oldest such program. Launched in 1896, the stamps — doled out at supermarket registers and gas stations, and which could be redeemed for goods in an accompanying catalogue — became so popular that by the 1960s S&H was issuing more stamps than the USPS. Betty Crocker (that sly old fox) would create the most successful loyalty program — at least in terms of longevity — when they introduced their box top point system on package goods in 1929. The program ran until 2006. Department stores and cereal brands followed suit (as any child of the ‘70s or ’80s can attest). Half of the fun of earning these loyalty perks was having something physical to show for it!
What’s Old Is New
While the programs above have been phased out, their inherent form factors needn’t be — especially at the dawn of web3, where tokenized assets can have truly compelling visuals. Now add real world value, and the collecting of these tokens becomes even more interesting. While Elaine was caught up in the bum deal of scoring a soggy sub, loyalty perks — part of the CRM strategy of any healthy brand — can indeed trigger dopamine hits, and be a perfect way for consumers to visualize the value their loyalty is creating. In terms of the dining industry, imagine a wallet that creatively reflects the points, prestige, and different levels of access you’ve earned at your favorite restaurants. Whether such tokens get you into a hot restaurant, earn you an off-menu item or a buy back from the bartender, or serve as your ticket into a cool food and wine festival, the form factor of each should be as magical as the experience itself.
Without playing our hand just yet, I can say this is one of the things we’re working on here at Blackbird — a visual way of collecting restaurant perks that will ultimately make the dining and restaurant discovery experience just that much more fun.
Founder + CEO
Blackbird Labs, Inc.
Thanks for reading! Blackbird will launch in select restaurants later this year. In the meantime, if you dug this, please give it a like! We’re also on Twitter and would love to hear from you there.