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Summary:

Belly originally built its loyalty and marketing platform for local businesses, but it’s now gravitating toward big enterprise chains. McDonalds, Chic-fil-A, 7-Eleven and Domino’s are all running pilot programs of Belly’s service in Chicago.

bellycard

Belly started out empowering local businesses to create loyalty programs of their own, allowing them to compete with the sophisticated customer retention campaigns of the big nationwide chains. But it turns out that those big chains are interested in Belly’s loyalty platform as well.

The Lightbank and Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup on Thursday revealed it is expanding its scope from small and medium-sized business to large enterprises. The company said it’s currently working with 40 national chains, which have installed its loyalty card scanning system in 500 locations. Belly said those chains collectively represent 40,000 restaurants and stores nationwide, though it didn’t reveal the names of the names of specific companies.

But a quick glance on Belly’s merchant map in Chicago reveals plenty of big names: McDonalds, Chick-fil-A, 7-Eleven and Domino’s Pizza among them. For instance, McDonalds is offering up rewards like a free regular fries or free cookie after accruing a specified number of Belly loyalty points.

Belly loyalty command center iPadBelly’s system is pretty simple. Belly members either order a universal loyalty card with a QR code or download the Belly app to their smartphone, which displays the QR code on screen. All merchants have an iPad set up at the register or other convenient location, and customers scan their card or app into the tablet to accrue points for every visit. Get enough points and you can pick prizes. Those can come in the form of free goods, discounts or sometimes more off-the-wall rewards, such as a personal serenade from the store’s owner.

Belly has attracted interest from businesses nationwide, but its hometown of Chicago remains its biggest market with more than a thousand locations using the Belly system. As a Chicagoan, I’ve seen Belly pop up everywhere. My wife and I use it to get free booze at our local liquor store, and we’re saving up our points so we can get a free cooking lesson from the chef of our favorite local restaurant Bistro Dre.

While I love the idea of unique tailored rewards programs for local businesses, it’s easy to see the appeal for Belly to go after the national chains. Chicago has many e-commerce companies that were founded on the principle of targeting small, local merchants, but they’ve been shifting their focus to the national retailers and brands.

For instance, fellow Lightbank startup Boomerang has abandoned its original local-business focus and to turn its peer-to-peer gifting service into a viral marketing platform for big brands like Ghirardelli and Starbucks. Even suffering e-commerce giant Groupon(grpn) (see disclosure) has strayed from its local business focus to offer an increasing number of daily deals for national chains.

Disclosure: The author’s spouse is employed by Groupon.

  1. Belly is a huge rip-off for merchants. Soon merchant will wise up that showing all of their competitions program and offers is horrible. You don’t own the members, can barely send generic emails to them. Worst program out there. It’s for the member and even then it’s limited. They lock you into a contract with a free tablet(Small business that wanted to be cutting edge) and then it’s to late to find out how horrible it is for your business.

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