How 2021 Will Be Won
“What a year we’ve had!” There are more than a few ways to read into that sentiment, but at least when looking back at the dramatic ways technology has shaped the converging landscapes of marketing and technology, the words are brimming with enthusiasm. 2021 will be an even more important year. Loyalty vendors are now teetering on a fine edge; they can either continue doing what they have always done, or they can change with the times to embrace the future of tech trends that will shape our world. The circumstances which have made 2020 a disaster for many have fueled technology applications acceleration, due to the necessity of remote interactions and virtual experiences. This evolution will continue into 2021 and beyond, even after the immediate effects of COVID-19 have subsided. Simply put, the world has changed, and will continue to change. Here are just a few of the future tech trends marketers should be ready to meet head on in 2021 and beyond.
A concept which has been around for a long time, AIs are beginning to stir attention as their growing sophistication is allowing them to enter real-world applications. According to a Teradata study, 80% of enterprises report that their organization already has some form of AI in production. The study also revealed that one of the top planned areas for AI investment for brands was customer experience. AI can benefit all areas of the loyalty ecosystem including improving data and analytics, enhancing customer experiences, and predicting the behaviors of customers over short and long time horizons.
Case Study: Adobe Analytics
Adobe has recently announced some big upgrades to their Customer Journey Analytics product. The new toolkit will use AI learning to spot anomalies in retail areas such as shopping carts and will add context to solve problems. John Bates, director of product management at Adobe Analytics, said “enterprises are collecting thousands of different metrics and these [new] tools aim to get the signal through the noise.”
Mobile apps require extra effort from customers. They require a device. They oblige extra effort to download, store, and manage updates for a piece of software that takes up space on that device. Given the added considerations of this commitment, many pundits believed that turnkey web-based platforms would outpace apps as the preferred channel of loyalty access. But in fact, apps are more important than ever in today’s loyalty landscape. 52% of c-store shoppers prefer using a mobile app, according to PDI’s 2019 C-Store Shopper Report. This growth is increasing rapidly: the 2019 Road to Rewards Report noted that in 2016, only 20% preferred mobile apps for reward redemption. The number rose to 31% in 2017 and 44% in 2019. In contrast, the choice to use a website for reward redemption has declined from 36% in 2017 to 29% as of 2020.
What is propelling these trends? Simply put, app experiences are better. Personalized targeting and customized rewards can be sent directly to users, tapping into the constantly progressing computing power of mobile devices. And the data collected from these interactions is much richer, enabling marketers to better link performance and results.
Case Study: Starbucks Rewards
Starbucks rewards is one of the most successful app-based loyalty schemes of all time. Charged with bringing many innovations into mobile loyalty technology including real-time personalization and pre-ordering functionality to bridge the virtual with the physical. Plus, the program took another firm step into the future this fall by embracing currency neutrality. Reward members can now pay for orders by cash, credit/debit card, and select mobile apps.
As cashless customers continue to march steadily forward expecting frictionless transactions no matter which technology or financial institutions they choose to patronize, stores must keep up with the surge in demand for mobile payments. Cash was under pressure even before the circumstances of COVID-19 began tugging on the final seam in an aging wallet. But now, even credit cards are falling into the realm of the has-been, with customers opting to go completely digital with their payment decisions.
Case Study: 7-Eleven
7-Eleven, Inc.’s new app-based mobile wallet offers all customers — including those who would like to load cash — a true contactless, convenient way to pay nationally at participating U.S. stores. 7-Eleven Wallet, a feature built into the 7-Eleven app, allows customers to securely load funds in the form of cash, debit and credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and prepaid 7-Eleven gift cards. Users are not charged any loading or transaction fees and incur no interest fees like those charged by credit cards.
The Digital Made Real
Perhaps the biggest tech trend of 2021 isn’t just a single app or hardware-enhanced feature. It’s a combination tools designed to integrate digital spaces with the real world as seamless, tangibly familiar experiences. It’s about augmenting reality in ways that were once only imagined in the most fantastical dominions of science fiction, and using technology as an interface to foster better loyalty connections, creating an all-encompassing omni-channel environment. Systems like voice and facial recognition paired with advanced AIs, real-time proximity marketing, strategic sensors, and smart screens will all combine — often behind the scenes — to create a new paradigm of shopping and loyalty across all areas of retail.
Case Study: Star Alliance
The airline industry had a rough year in 2020, and will need a drastic upheaval from their historic operations to accommodate the change in demand and travel expectations from customers. Star Alliance, the world’s largest global airline alliance, along with founding member airline Lufthansa, is rolling out a new generation of biometric services at Frankfurt and Munich international airports called Star Alliance Biometrics, powered by NEC I:Delight. These innovations will help solve a key piece of the new air travel model: allowing for faster and more accurate identification than human screening while also reducing the need for human interactions.
Star Alliance aims to bring most if not all of its 26 member airlines onto the platform, and to expand the service beyond its member airline loyalty club and include all travellers. “We believe providing warm and personal customer service is an important element for airports and airlines to build customer loyalty,” says Jason Van Sice, Vice President of Aviation, NEC Corporation of America. “NEC I:Delight will not eliminate but enhance these initiatives by removing the distraction of document and ticket validation, and focus on known individuals with seat preferences, status, and more.”