As promised, we are excited to continue to promote other blogs and websites through our interview series. Feel free to reach out to us if you would also like to share your story with our readers. For today, we are interviewing Stephen Akins, founder of QR Loyalty Cards, who is going to share with us his journey on how his website started! Keep up the great work Stephen, we look forward to seeing your business expand further!
Please tell us about yourself
I’m a long time web application developer; living and working on Galiano Island; which is a small, rural southern gulf island located about halfway between Vancouver and Victoria. I’ve done a lot of work for big corporations and ad agencies and in the last few years I’ve turned my attention, together with some of my fellow small island developers and designers, to creating Rewards Programs for SMBs.
What inspired you to start QR Loyalty Cards?
Our journey started back in 2012 with the first version of our software, QR Coffee Card. Our small group of Galiano Developers would often get together for “Nerd Night” or just socially and talk about product ideas and work on various projects. In those days there weren’t very many Rewards Programs for SMBs, and I toyed around with the idea of creating a more modern version of the traditional punch card. One that would allow customers to have the option of either using mobile or, if they chose to use a physical card, then to at least reduce the number of cards that customers carried around with them by making a card that could be used at multiple businesses.
At the time, I was still thinking only about coffee shops and the first version of the software was very basic. Even then, though, I was convinced that the Program’s focus should be on promoting the business itself, not the Program. For instance, our software provided businesses with the ability to create their own business branded card designs; for free. Business owners could upload their card art to the application and the application would generate print files for cards, each with their own unique QR Code. Even today; our free business offering (the only free offering in it’s category, not a demo and no limitations) provides businesses with the means of creating their own business branded cards/customer experience. The [very] few of our competitors that offer business branded cards and customer experience do so only as a Premium feature.
The coffee shop version of the application was short-lived. It served mainly to develop our thinking in terms of how the Program ultimately needed to work, and help us realize that there were many kinds of businesses and organizations that could use the software to benefit their businesses too. It also made us realize that the concept excited us, that we had some great, original thinking and that we were convinced that we could build something exceptional. We returned to the drawing board and about a year and a half ago, we launched a wholly redesigned version of the software and branded it QR Loyalty Cards.
What is QR Loyalty Cards all about?
*See QR Loyalty Cards on Pinterest here.
The number one thing that we’re about is the businesses that we provide programs for. The new version of our software still has Business Branded cards as part of our base offering, with its own DIY “card designer” for businesses on a tight budget, but unlike our original coffee shop Rewards Program; we’re now so much more robust with many more features and adaptations; making it suitable for a wide range of businesses and organizations.
We’re also about ease of use. Not only have we spent a lot of time streamlining our system to reduce the time and energy required to punch cards and redeem rewards, but we’ve made the Program so that it’s the employees that do the card punching; not the customer.
So, for instance, customers who use the physical punch cards hand their card to an employee; who punches the card and then hands it back to the customer, in a way that’s familiar to anyone who’s used a traditional punch card. Many of our competitors have customers “self-punch” their cards; claiming that this is a time-saver for employees by getting customers to do the work; instead. We feel that it’s the employee’s job, not the customer’s, to do work and, anyway, with the self-punching model employees simply end up having to show many customers how to install apps and punch their own cards, which likely ends up using even more time, in the end.
What makes your website different from others out there?
Most of our competitors focus primarily on their rewards program, and the businesses that use the program participate in a sort of secondary way. For instance; often our competitor’s software centers around a map which customers use to see all of the businesses that use the rewards program; such as with Rogers Vicinity. With our program we reverse those roles; when a business uses our program it’s all about them (and not also about their competitor, down the block).
We also offer businesses the means to reward the widest range of “profitable customer behaviours”. By which we mean that businesses can reward customers for a wide variety of actions that lead to increased business and profit (such as bringing friends, visiting regularly – or the most often, sharing Specials or Events on Facebook, returning after a long absence, visiting a location they’ve never visited before, and several others). We’ve even added a Suspended Products Program option where businesses can reward customers for helping the less fortunate in their communities.
To the best of our knowledge, we offer the only Program in our category that has a 100% free option for businesses (by which I mean that our free offering is not a demo and has no limitations). We use the most inexpensive technology while providing leading edge functionality. And frequently businesses can use hardware they already have on location to run their QR Loyalty Cards rewards program.
Registration in our Program is not mandatory. In fact; the majority of the customers of our businesses do not register (virtually all of our competitors have mandatory registration). There are some advantages for customers who register. For instance, registered customers who lose their cards don’t lose their punches. Also, businesses have the option to reward customers who register with additional punches. But we feel that not having mandatory registration removes a barrier to participation; especially for people who are concerned about their privacy.
What were some of the challenges you faced when starting your website? What has kept you going?
We’re still a small organization; self funded and bootstrapping our own growth. We do fairly well on the development side of things; but we’re looking forward to a time when we have more resources. We have many plans for the future that we’re very eager to get started on.
We offer some paid, subscription based, packages for businesses (which include services like card printing/manufacture, design and support services, etc). We currently have about 1300 registered businesses and the rate of businesses enrolling in our program is increasing steadily. We’re very much a Rewards Program for the Little Guy (although we also scale very well for larger enterprises).
What can we look forward to with QR Loyalty Cards?
We are expanding into some new areas (e.g. paid membership/premium loyalty, gift certificates, payment cards, etc) and we are just about to launch our first Whitelabel partnership (our Whitelabel Program will allow others to rebrand our software and provide their own Rewards Programs to businesses; likely for specific vertical segments or geographic regions).
Currently we are focused primarily on Bricks and Mortar businesses but we’re working on our API and a suite of widgets for online marketplaces (e.g. Shopify) and WordPress. At about the same time we’ll be introducing POS integration.
What advice would you give to “Pointshoggers” (i.e. miles and points collectors)?
Don’t ignore the little guy. Small businesses’ rewards programs often provide great, valuable rewards. For example; one of our businesses is a deli that has so far given away about 2,800 sandwiches (which is why their customers visit them in the first place). Keep your eyes open at your favourite little stores and restaurants for these programs and if your favourite business doesn’t have a program; maybe suggest that they get one; if you’re going to be a faithful customer. You may as well get rewarded for it.
Any final thoughts?
If any Pointshogger readers would like to contact us with comments or suggestions; we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.