New thermochromic loyalty card launched in US

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on August 3, 2001

New thermochromic loyalty card launched in US

A new thermochromic loyalty card has been launched in the US. The Visible Results GraphiCard is being marketed by Visible Results USA Inc., a subsidiary of the New Zealand-based Visible Results Group of Companies.

Visual cards have always fascinated the consumer. There are two main types: thermochromic cards and magnetically-driven cards. The technology behind the two is different but the effect is the same: each time a visual card is used, a message can be written onto a panel on the front of the card. The next time it is used, the terminal can erase that message and substitute a new one.

Thermal terminal As the name suggests, thermochromic cards are written to and erased using heat generated in the terminal, just like a thermal printer. The thermochromic layer can be attached to either thick plastic resulting in a card very much like a credit card or, more often, to thin, flexible plastic (called PTFE cards). These are very popular in Japan.

Thermochromic cards can be used without any addition, or can carry a magnetic stripe or even a chip, in which case they become smart cards. The advantages are clear: as far as the consumer is concerned, they are much more interesting and useful than an ordinary card, and they are very well suited to stealth marketing. Individual, targeted offers can be made to each customer, with none of them knowing what the others are getting. For instance, a customer buying petrol could have printed on his loyalty card a unique price per gallon that he will pay on his next visit.

In price, the cards fall between magnetic stripe cards and smart cards. However, at present the terminals are relatively expensive. They are therefore best suited to applications with a high customer/checkout ratio.

The GraphiCard System Users swipe their GraphiCard through a freestanding counter-top unit at the point-of-sale when completing a sales transaction.  The card  instantly displays points accrued through the most recent purchase along with other personalized data designed to pique consumers' interest. Such data - which is customized for each client - can range from targeted offers to details of special promotions and sales, advertising messages or results for instant-win games. Visible Results' point-of-sale terminal prints out customized coupons and other special incentives as the transaction is completed.

CRM infrastructure Additionally, Visible Results supports the card with a customer relationship management (CRM) infrastructure. The company's marketing director, Michael Whittaker told The Wise Marketer that data collected in the transactions is downloaded and uploaded every night to a central database held at the company's headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand, generating reports that may subsequently be used to tailor the programme. All programme software changes are securely initiated via the Internet. Instant offers can be driven by RFM calculations which the system can perform off-line.

Already is use Several US retailers have already committed to using the technology, which has previously been successfully employed outside the continental US by such companies as McDonald's Hawaii (with 70 locations), Mobil Oil New Zealand, and Caltex Oil Singapore.

Mobil Oil New Zealand introduced Mobil MAX, its GraphiCard-based loyalty programme, in November 1998. Since that time, it has seen its retail fuels market share increase to 24.9% from 23.9% and realised a 26% jump in convenience-store sales. It has also recorded the highest brand association with a loyalty programme, with levels at 71%, and delivered the highest unprompted brand awareness for service station advertising, at 28%. Mobil MAX enrolees currently number 430,000, versus a target of 130,000 participants.     Meanwhile, average monthly spending among the 100,000-plus members of Caltex's two-year-old Thanks! programme has skyrocketed by more than 80% over averages for members of the chain's previous loyalty card endeavour. The number of individuals signed up for Thanks! surpassed the total number of members in the original programme within three months of inception. Convenience-store sales have consistently exceeded targets, and Thanks! transactions account for about 75% of the value of Caltex transactions nationwide.

Visible Results has recently increased its presence in the US market by buying up Kansas-based GraphiCard Systems International (GSI), which holds the international patent for the GraphiCard, for NZ$14.4 million. 

Managing Director Michael Whittaker says 80% of Visible Results' revenue now comes from offshore marketings. "This acquisition not only gives us international patents to the technology, but secures the distributorships in North and South America, in addition to those we already hold in the Asia Pacific region."

The company expects to provide specialist services to the United States worth $US30 million in the first year alone.

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