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US: Is Shopkick a full-fledged loyalty coalition?

Whether apps are the future of mobile marketing or whether the mobile web will reign supreme is a question for ongoing debate. One company, however, is going all-in on the mobile app experience: Shopkick, the eight-year old, first-generation mobile shopping app that rewards customers for checking into stores. The company previously announced that it would expand its mobile rewards app into the grocery sector; this week, the company makes that expansion official. While everyone had their eye on the Plenti partnership with Winn Dixie, Shopkick quietly conquered the U.S. grocery sector. Does that move make Shopkick the leader in U.S. coalition loyalty?
 
By Rick Ferguson
 
The launch into the grocery sector comes not via a separate Shopkick grocery app, but rather via a new feature embedded in the core Shopkick app called Shopkick Grocery. As with the main Shopkick app, the feature will reward the app's loyalty currency, called "kicks," to customers who visit partner retail locations, make purchases, scan product barcodes, try recipes and consume content, among other activies. Customers then redeem Kicks for gift cards from major brands.
 
Given the plethora of shopping apps dangling rewards, deals, and discounts to mobile-addled shoppers, how can Shopkick - which, as Techcrunch points out, currently sits at #1,233 on the App Store downloads list, stand out in an era when the mobile web threatens to make apps obsolete? There are a number of factors that favor Shopkick's success:
 
Scale: Shopkick claims 23 million active monthly users and over $58 million in gift card redemptions - which, if true, puts the Shopkick program into the upper echelon of retail loyalty programs.
 
Activity: If Shopkick's stats are on the money, those 23 million members are active: Users spend over 2.5 hours per month using the app; the app has driven over 200 million store visits without the use of discounts; and members have scanned over 270 million product bar codes.
 
Reach: Shopkick claims over 250,000 retail locations in which members can earn rewards - including such major retail brands as Best Buy, Hallmark, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx.
 
Engagement: In addition to rewards for walking in and for scanning barcodes, CPG brands can leverage the app to reward members for engagement activities such as creating shopping lists, viewing lookbooks, watching videos, tapping on offers, and integrating recipes with their shopping lists. Money quote from Techcrunch:
 
"The included recipes will integrate with the shopping list, too. At launch, there are a few recipes available featuring its brands' products, like Starbucks Coffee Glazed Ham and Hidden Valley Ranch Buffalo Chicken Pizza, for example. This is an area that Shopkicks' grocery deals competitors haven't tackled, as their apps are more focused on offers and deals, and less on how to make those offers a part of a consumers' weekly meal-planning activities."
The Techcrunch story does, however, bury the lede: while everyone has been applauding the American Express Plenti program for finally convincing a grocer to join a major US coalition program - in this case, Winn Dixie - Shopkick has quietly added 37,000 U.S. grocery stores including Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Target, Walmart, and others. That's in addition to the cornucopia of CPG brands playing in the program: Barilla, Bayer, Clorox, Mentos, Purina, Ragu, Ben & Jerry’s, Coty, Dole, Ruffino Wines, Sargento and Starbucks, to name a few. 
 
Let's pause for a moment to consider the sheer scale of Shopkick's accomplishment. Plenti may be the bigger program in terms of overall membership: the company claimed 30 million active users in December of 2015. While Amex was touting its Winn Dixie partnership, however, Shopkick has quietly convinced nearly every major grocer in the U.S. - even Walmart (!) - to play in its loyalty program. Tell me why that doesn't mean that Shopkick is a full-fledged loyalty coalition? They may not be selling points to grocers in the traditional coalition model, but they now have more reach into the grocery sector than any loyalty program has ever achieved. They may not have a fuel or co-branded credit card partner - but with the grocery landscape now wide open, there's no reason why they can't quickly land both.
 
It remains to be seen whether or not Shopkick grocery will help Shopkick achieve critical mass. With every loyalty expert proclaiming for 20 years the importance of a grocer to coalition sucess, however, its hard to argue that Shopkick hasn't done an end run around American Express. Plenti may be the current king of U.S. coalitions - but there's a strong contender coming up fast.
 
Rick Ferguson is CEO and Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group.

 
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