Profiles

“Selling itself”: Why loyalty app UpStreet is rewarding customers with shares rather than points

Priscilla Pho /

UpStreet Shivani Gopal

UpStreet co-founder Shivani Gopal. Source: supplied.

Fintech UpStreet is determined to put consumers and retailers on “the same playing field”, with an app rewarding customer loyalty with shares, rather than points.

“So what we want to do is get retailers and customers speaking the same language,” co-founder and chief executive Shivani Gopal tells StartupSmart.

To achieve this, the UpStreet app “turns a customer into an owner by rewarding them with shares as they shop”.

According to Gopal, the idea has been “selling itself”, thanks to the success of a similar product in the US, which offers the startup proof-of-concept as it pitches to retailers across Australia.

However, getting the product to this stage hasn’t been as smooth.

Despite understanding the problems inherent to current loyalty models for a long time, Gopal needed the help of co-founder and chief technician Ermin Nurovic to build a solution.

Together with co-founder and chief operator Christian Eckelmann, Gopal and Nurovic are looking to change the way Australians earn money.

“All three of us are really intrinsically motivated to help build the wealth of the everyday Australian and to do it in a really fun way,” Gopal says.

Deconstructing the problem

Customers want to receive discounts and rewards for their loyalty, Gopal says, yet at the same time, they are not motivated to use said discounts.

The often-cumbersome processes to save a few cents also puts people off, she says, and “customers also couldn’t be bothered to go through the high friction and time-consuming nature of having to follow cookies and actually get a discount”.

“They wanted something that was going to be seamless,” Gopal says.

“At the end of the day, we are all time-poor.”

On the other hand, discounts were not only creating “greater price sensitivity”, but also didn’t help retailers develop a true sense of customer loyalty, Gopal says.

“We hypothesised about different ways we can do it, and we landed on, ‘the rewards should be shares’,” she says.

The three co-founders theorised this would incentivise shoppers to return to the same stores.

The idea is to allow customers to watch their own wealth, or shares, grow as they shop.

And in the process, “actually creating a meaningful interest in those brands,” she adds.

Retailing to retailers

Although they are already piloting the first iterations of the app with an undisclosed number of testers, the three co-founders are holding off launching until early-to-mid next year, giving them time to onboard more retailers, so they can “come out with a bang”.

But pitching a product to big retailers comes with its own challenges, Gopal admits.

“From the consumer side, we didn’t have to spend very much to get them interested. From a retail side, it’s really who you know,” she says.

Trawling through LinkedIn and reaching out to connections who knew someone within the retail industry was the team’s first step.

Some retailers were quick to sign up, while others, Gopal says, took three separate meetings, moving up the chain of command, to even get the ball rolling.

Helping her case was the success of an American app similar to UpStreet, which she says has joined forces with retail behemoths such as Walmart, McDonald’s and Amazon.

And while these are some huge names, Gopal hopes, Down Under, stores of all sizes will join the program.

“In retail today, most brands are largely undifferentiated,” Gopal says.

“Everyone has their own loyalty programs. The only way you differentiate yourself is to make your customers feel like an owner of your store.

“They will disregard all the competition and go straight to you.”

StartupSmart was invited to Antler HQ as the official media partner of Antler Demo Day 2019.

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Priscilla Pho

Priscilla is a reporter at SmartCompany. You can contact her at [email protected].