“Do you have AIR MILES?”

We’ve all had that question posed to us. You walk into a store, find what you need, and roll on over to the cash register to make your purchase. As you wait in line, you watch customer after customer fumbling through their wallets trying to find the ubiquitous card that everybody wants to have; the loyalty program card. And you know you’re going to have to dig into your wallet to get that extremely valuable 4 AIR MILES to add to your startling total of 362 AIR MILES, good enough to get you three packs of partially-used KFC wetnaps. It’s gotten to the point where we want one even if we don’t have any reason for it. I’ve signed up for loyalty program cards in Australia and New Zealand knowing full well that the odds of them being useful to me are about as likely as my needing the entire first season of Degrassi Junior High on Beta-max. Canadians, it seems, have a natural predisposition toward loyalty programs; fully 10 million of us are members of some sort of loyalty program, with the largest membership being that of AIR MILES, administered by Loyalty One. That represents 1/3 of Canadians with membership in the same club!

One of the growing trends in social media, according to Mashable.com, is the development of mobile applications that will take the place of the myriad of loyalty cards that currently prevent your wallet from closing. And now that I think about it, it’s kind of surprising that no one has come up with this before, particularly given that the number of apps keeps growing exponentially; Android, alone has added roughly 80,000 apps in a single year.

The other interesting aspect of this is that loyalty programs effectively give social media a monetary value; the ROI on social media, which has formerly been fairly complicated to understand for the uneducated, is now entirely measurable. The collection of points becomes an analytical tool representing the conversion rate that the specific media platform has generated. Tasti-D-Lite, a frozen dessert chain, has introduced a loyalty program through Twitter and Foursquare that represents a new angle on both loyalty programs and social media marketing campaigns.

What this means is that Canadian retailers have a couple of options in front of them. They can do what they have seem to have done in the past, which, in my opinion, is sit idly by and watch technology move ahead or they can embrace the coming tide and take advantage of our propensity for wanting to be part of something ‘bigger’. It’s nice to be part of a group; facebook has proven that. Canadians appear to get off on it more than most. Mobile apps could make loyalty programs even more appealing than they already appear to be to us. If collecting loyalty program points becomes even easier than it already is the number of participants in Canada could grow to truly absurd levels.

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