Using loyalty cards can be a real pain, especially if you only need them every so often. The benefits they provide can be really worthwhile – who doesn’t want a free coffee for every nine they buy or enough Avios points to hop across to New York every few years? But they’re easy to lose, they get left in the wrong handbag and they can make your wallet weigh a tonne.
No wonder we’ve seen a raft of new start-ups offering to digitise the whole process and put it on your smartphone. One such company is Bink, started by entrepreneurs Lee Clarke (pictured below) and Greg Gormley.
Other start-ups’ solutions to the problem have included giving customers a QR code to scan with their phone, or having them tap their device on an NFC reader to collect points. Bink wants to make it even easier by collecting sales data directly from your bank card.
Users download the app, connect their existing loyalty cards and link it with their payment cards. Next time they spend they’ll accrue points without having to do anything else at all. For some merchants it will soon work on a ‘pre-tender’ basis too – automatically applying loyalty discounts at the point of sale.
‘I was incredibly frustrated with going shopping and not getting that simple thank you in terms of rewards or discounts with the merchants I was shopping with because I would forget or refuse to carry a loyalty card,’ says Clarke, who is Bink’s CEO. ‘I thought surely there's a better way of engaging customers.’
So he teamed up with Gormley, his co-founder and CFO, who discovered the market was worth as much as $100bn globally each year – bigger than the music and film industries combined. Bink makes its money by charging a fee from retailers. ‘For smaller merchants we have a per-store model which is very small and the new pricing matrix will be publicised over the coming few weeks. Larger ones have an enterprise pricing model.’
So far the app has accrued more than 100,000 downloads and Bink has raised more than $10m in funding. Clarke has also managed to assemble a pretty weighty board including former Merrill Lynch chair Bob Wigley, former Barclays CMO Elizabeth Chambers and Saga’s marketing chief Matt Atkinson, formerly CMO of Tesco. Retailers it has signed up include Topshop, Dixons Travel, Pizza Express and Morrisons.
Some were hesitant to work with Bink initially out of fear it would become a barrier between them and their customers. ‘Now that retailers understand the value that Bink delivers, that we're a simple add-on to enhance their existing loyalty programme so they can engage with more people that shop with them, it's a relatively straightforward conversation,’ says Clarke.
Founded just three years ago the company already employs 60 people. Clarke says he expects that to reach 80 in the next few months and that’s just in the UK – Bink now has an office in San Francisco and plans to open another in New York next year.
For now the service just works with card payments – both online and in store – but the plan is to integrate with digital payment methods like Paypal and Apple Pay too. In 10 years’ time, ‘Nobody will have to carry a classic loyalty card around with them,’ predicts Clarke. ‘Their ID will be their payment type whether that's going to be a piece of plastic, a wearable, a mobile telephone or moving forwards is it an implant or facial recognition? We want to be completely agnostic to that.’
So what’s in the name? It sounds like something you’d pay a marketing agency £50,000 to conjure up or else a portmanteau of ‘bank’ and ‘link’, but it actually comes from Clarke’s kids.
‘Like any company we had a group of people in a room, brainstorming different names, we went through 500 or 600 different permutations only to find out when we looked to trademark the name it had already been taken,’ he says. ‘Through frustration I was at home speaking to the family, and the kids came up with a name looking at a derivative of my wife's number plate at the time. And said well why don't we call it Bink?’