WAM Loyalty to Provide Online and Offline Currency

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WAM Loyalty is expected to launch today with the goal of becoming the universal currency for online and offline loyalty programs.

The company was formed by A la Carte International, best known for its Press Pass program, in which subscribers to 16 major newspapers earn dining discounts at 5,000 restaurants. The company has used its existing relationships to developed a large user base for its most recent offering.

WAM, San Diego, plans to make its cards available through partnerships with newspapers. On June 1, 325,000 households that subscribe to the San Diego Union-Tribune will receive two WAM Cards.

"We're going to spread from the West Coast to the East Coast," said Michelle Munroe, director of marketing for WAM.

The company is close to signing seven additional daily newspapers to contracts. The combined circulation of these papers will enable WAM to reach more than two million people.

Users of these cards receive points every time they shop at any of the 500 participating merchants in the San Diego area. The WAM Card is swiped, automatically crediting their account with the appropriate point totals. Balances are updated on the Web, and consumers are presented a paper receipt with their point balance.

Cardholders can spend the points at restaurants, small businesses and nationally branded retailers offline as well as online.

"Consumers can earn and spend online and offline," said Munroe. "It's a universal currency, no matter what your shopping habits are."

One member of the loyalty field has doubts about the program's success.

"It's nothing very novel at all. Any credit or debit card issuer can have the same program," said Rick Barlow, president of Frequency Marketing Inc., Cincinnati, which creates loyalty programs online and offline. "It isn't necessarily unique, meaning anyone can copy it. Loyalty programs are popping up everywhere."

One WAM point is equal to one cent. Through the program, cardholders will be able to earn 10 percent to 20 percent of their nontaxed total.

Using a cash equivalent for a points program can be the kiss of death, said Barlow. "It reminds people they're dealing in pennies. You have no way to exploit perceived value, and that's essential in a loyalty program. Frequent flier programs are powerful because no one knows what they're worth," he said. "A major local bank did a dollar-dominated program here in Cincinnati. That crashed and burned because they were unable to get consumers excited about earning pennies."

To promote the San Diego Union-Tribune program, ads will begin appearing in the paper in May. The Tribune will also promote the program via radio, television, billboards and bus stops, according to Munroe.

The WAM Web site, go2wam.com, will go live April 21. However, each client will have a Web site where users can check point balances as well as make purchases.

The card technology is provided by ePacific.com.

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