The loyalty card industry is growing globally, with companies offering their customers points for purchases in certain stores. But the scheme has yet to catch on fully in the UAE. Dave Battiston of Aimia, a loyalty management company, explains why that may be about to change and how businesses put customer data to use.
How developed is the loyalty card industry here?
I think there are a couple of airlines doing it well. Emirates [Airline] has a great programme with Skywards, and Etihad [Airways] are doing good as well. It's starting to get more mature. I think we can play a part. That's all we do. We say to our customers like Spinneys and HSBC, "You be the best grocer or bank that you can be and leave us to do the loyalty side for you."
Which companies are you in talks with in the UAE?
Pretty much all of the leading ones, and we have a lot in our programmes now. We do Air Miles Middle East and we also have Aimia. We are about to release a couple of big brands as well, but we see a lot more of the bigger families wanting to have a talk. I think they realise the importance. People who aren't in data now are going to be left behind. They need the data to make decisions.
What is the benefit of collecting data on your customers?
Just for the return on investment, knowing who your best customers are - which is the golden rule of marketing. If you know who your best customers are, you can get them to buy more, plus you know their shopping habits. With the Nectar card in the UK, we analyse the [shopping] baskets, so we know that you are buying shampoo and not conditioner. So we say to Sainsbury's, "Hey, this person is not buying conditioner. They are obviously buying it from someone else. We are going to make them an offer on conditioner."
Some may say these schemes are an invasion of privacy.
I think there are four things: there's transparency; there's control; you've got to give added value; and trust. The UK has the best privacy laws worldwide. In the Middle East, you don't have to do it if you don't want to, because there are no real [privacy-specific] laws, but we follow the same standards as the UK.
Has the link between loyalty cards and customer loyalty been proved, or are companies using them more as a marketing tool?
It's definitely proved. People wouldn't be in it if they weren't getting a return on investment. You've got to give value back. A lot of our partners have been with us for years because they know it works.
* Gillian Duncan