Smart Payments, Social Networking, and Buying Habits Merging Rapidly

By Rana K. Williamson, PhD, Better Merchant Accounts

While chip-based credit cards have become the standard in Europe, the "smart" cards have been slow to catch on in the United States. In this country, both companies and users seem more inclined to opt for payment strategies linked to their smartphones. Regardless, however, chains are finding ways to leverage credit card payments for social networking through a variety of creative strategies.

Perhaps the best news for chains is that consumers are starting to use their credit again. Delinquency rates are down by 20%, and charge-offs by 37%. In part, this may be due to the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 or Credit CARD Act of 2009, which put an end to many of the aggressive tactics card companies previously used to sign up young customers.

Credit card companies opt for social media strategies
Instead, card companies have ramped up their social media strategies, and chains have piggy backed their own marketing efforts on to those programs. For instance:

American Express has a program called "Link, Like, Love" which offers discounts based on users' Facebook and Twitter activities. Chase held a $1 million Facebook sweepstakes and did similar giveaways for $1000 gift cards. The company's LivingSocial Credit Card is tied to a $20 introductory bonus and five "points" per dollar spent on qualified LivingSocial purchases that can then be redeemed.

In an even more "virtual" approach, Discover ran a promotion through the popular Farmville gaming community offering new customers $100 in virtual game currency. Citi customers who are also Facebook members have the option of pooling their rewards points to redeem gifts or to make charitable contributions.

Merchants cash in on social strategies
On the other end of the spectrum, local merchants and chains are cashing in on the impetus for social marketing by offering deals through communities like Facebook, Twitter, and Living Social. For many people, the double lure of getting a credit card discount (or accruing points) as well as a "deal" from the merchant is almost irresistible.

Consumers who visit the LivingSocial page are prompted to supply their location and give an email address to opt-in for a free membership. They are then asked to specify their gender, family status, and home ZIP code, which customizes the results even more specifically.

The LivingSocial page, which, as a Pinterest-like interface, makes it easy for consumers to browse deals, and the benefit for chains is clearly evident in the section for Takeout and Delivery, where restaurants listed include Subway, Quiznos, and Schlotzsky’s are prominent among various local eateries.

As a further example, the Quizno’s Facebook page offers links to specials and free offerings. Pair that with a LivingSocial deal and pay for it with a LivingSocial card? You begin to see how the overlap not only drives consumer behavior, but links multiple benefits. The Quizno’s Facebook page constitutes free advertising with every “like” or comment. The chain makes money. The credit card companies make money. The consumer is more inclined to use the card based on a trusted recommendation and with a real-time savings involved.

As social networking and payment strategies continue to become more intertwined, predictions suggest Americans’ buying behavior will become even less cash-based and more socially driven. In 2012, 81% of all money spent in restaurants, for instance, was placed on debit, credit, or prepaid cards. The merger of all these technologies is not only inevitable, but ripe with potential for both the card companies and chain entities.

Rana K. Williamson, PhD, a freelance writer and researcher, covers a wide range of topics for Better Merchant Accounts, with a particular interest in technology, the Internet, and the emerging business systems of the 21st century.

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