In 1896, the Sperry & Hutchinson Co (S&H) launched the first retail loyalty program. The company doled out Green Stamps which customers pasted into booklets and eventually redeemed for products in a catalog. By the 1960s Green Stamps had a national presence, and over time other companies launched their own loyalty programs, using new methods such as box tops, store cards, and most recently mobile apps.
When I relocated to the Boston area, I quickly downloaded the mobile app for my regional grocery store of choice: Star Market. I’d appreciated using digital coupons and rewards points during college to keep down my monthly grocery budget, and I wanted to do the same in Boston.
At checkout (pre-COVID) I often packed my own bags so I could put the heaviest items in a backpack and distribute the other items evenly between two reusable bags for my walk home. Doing this often meant I wasn’t thinking about entering the phone number linked to my rewards account into the POS terminal (the place where you insert/swipe your card). If I failed to enter the number before my purchase was totaled, any coupons I clipped digitally weren’t applied, and I didn’t acquire reward points for my purchase.
After being frustrated I’d missed this step on several occasions and knowing that my boyfriend had often done the same, I wanted to try designing a solution.
Exploring the Problem
My General Assembly UX design course emphasized the importance of looking at all sides of a potential problem versus jumping right in with a solution. Although my initial inclination was to think about solving this problem digitally after a purchase was made, it was important for me to step back and recognize what pre-purchase factors might be contributing to it.
Reminders at Checkout
Cashier Checkout: The primary means for remembering to enter your number in a checkout line with a cashier is to look at the POS terminal where a message asking for your rewards account phone number appears. An alternative could involve requiring cashiers to ask if you are enrolled in the rewards program and directing you to enter your number.
Since COVID, I’ve seen an increase in this type of interaction, in part because cashiers are often offering to enter the number for you if you would prefer not to touch the POS terminal. A verbal reminder would likely not eliminate the problem entirely—we’re all prone to forgetfulness!—but could likely decrease instances of not claiming a purchase.
Self Checkout: The problem of forgetting to enter your rewards number is already addressed at self-checkout stations. If a customer hasn’t entered their phone number by the time they go to pay, the system prompts them to enter it or choose to move on to payment. A solution could involve implementing more self-checkout lines; however, it seems unlikely this option would be implemented across every checkout at a store.
Method of Entry
The existing system requires customers to enter their phone numbers but alternatives could include providing scannable rewards cards to customers like CVS does or having the cashier enter the customer’s phone number or an email instead. The former option introduces new cost and distribution considerations, and the latter option could make the checkout process lengthier given that today a customer can enter their number as their items are being rung up.
It is also important to consider the accessibility of the current system of reminders and entry methods. POS terminals can be inaccessible to individuals in wheelchairs because their height and lack of flexibility may result in privacy violations when having to enter a PIN or may require them to hand over a card to the cashier for scanning. If the primary means of being reminded to enter rewards information is through a notice on the top of the POS terminal, where the customer then must enter their phone number, there may be a need to make that experience more accessible.
The existing Star Market mobile app and customer website don’t offer clear opportunities to retroactively associate a purchase with your account, so when I started exploring solution I had to look to other companies.
After rewording my Google search a few times, I was able to find related problems and solutions by entering “Forgot to scan my rewards card” and “Forgot to enter my rewards”.
The solutions typically fell into four categories:
1. Out of Luck!
Some restaurants and retailers don’t provide the option to add a purchase to their account later. The IKEA Family program is one such example, which informs their customers in their FAQs that purchases can only be captured at checkout.
2. Contact Customer Service
Some companies ask customers to contact Customer Service directly, an example being Kohl’s Yes2You program. This option provides an opportunity for the customer to solve the problem, but may introduce efficiency barriers like having to call during certain hours or sit through long wait times.
3. Online Form
The most common solution I found was signing into an online account and accessing a form to submit the purchase. The information companies require from customers can vary.
Some, like Ulta Beauty, have a short transaction number associated with the purchase that users must locate on their receipt and enter along with the store number, purchase date, and register number. Ulta requires users to submit purchases within 30 days of the transaction.
Other companies utilize a specific missed visit code, such as Panera which asks customers to enter a 22-digit code through an online form once logged into their account.
Neither Ulta nor Panera allow customers to enter information directly in their apps though you can navigate to an FAQ in the Panera app that directs you to the browser form.
4. In-App Entry
A few apps provide the option to submit purchases from within the app. The Smoothie King app includes screens to select the reason you’re missing points, select the store where the transaction took place, and add information and a receipt. This flow can be found within the Guest Support section of the app.
After exploring the options above, I decided to move forward with a solution similar to Smoothie King’s, allowing the user to submit the missed purchase through their mobile app without redirecting them to a browser or requiring a second login. This option does not introduce additional steps at checkout, but could be paired with additional verbal reminders to enter rewards information.
Check out Part Two where I explore the existing Star Market mobile app and go through my initial wireframes and stay tuned for Part Three where I go through usability testing and my wireframe revisions.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Star Market or Albertsons stores in any capacity.