Looking at the digital wallet, gift card and merchant loyalty programs currently available, I realize that I want more.
The thing that's missing in today's digital payments is a deeper integration between charitable giving and shopping. The concept of using the payments stream to donate is compelling because it provides an easy way to link everyday consumer payments with charitable giving.
To successfully combine giving and payments, integrations must offer payments with or without plastic, allow consumers to choose the organizations that receive donations and the process has to be simple.
As a recent MARC Research study commissioned by the Google Shopper Marketing Agency Council shows, 84% of consumers that consider themselves "smartphone shoppers" use their devices to help shop while they're in stores. The study also found that frequent mobile shoppers spend 25% more in-store than people who only occasionally use their smartphones while shopping.
And since 79% of smartphone owners surveyed consider themselves smartphone shoppers, it's clear that consumers will continue to have higher expectations for mobile features and benefits that enhance the in-store experience.
Indeed, some merchants have already begun responding to this demand by creating a link between loyalty, charitable giving and payments. But providing payments with or without plastic is still a tough nut to crack. There are a number of digital wallets that can serve up 2D bar codes that enable mobile payments, but so far, merchant adoption has been sparse.
Safeway recently began piloting a decoupled debit card that allows consumers to link a checking account to the grocer's loyalty card, and also provides users with digital coupons and rewards bonuses. Shoppers who use the Fast Forward product don't need to carry a physical card with them at the store grocery and gas payments can be made by entering in a phone number and PIN.
What's more is that during checkout, Safeway presents customers with an embedded giving opportunity to donate to its cause of the month (in August, the beneficiary was the Muscular Dystrophy Association).
Grocery is a merchant segment receiving a significant amount of attention from payment marketers, and for good reason. Consumers depend on their smartphones for a variety of interactions at grocery stores, including saving time and money, as well as making their lives easier, according to research by the Food Marketing Institute.
Mobile devices are clearly influencing consumer behaviors, and by embedding donation opportunities like cause of the month, featured charity organizations and donation credits when shoppers bring in their own bags, merchants are promoting charitable giving. But it's just the beginning.
The opportunity exists to add capabilities that build on consumers' committed spend. As customers accrue miles or cash back percentages on affinity credit cards, linked donation programs could automatically allocate a percentage of those rewards to their chosen organization.
But in order for such a program to really work as a vehicle for donations, all of the participants in the service chain will have to agree on a common infrastructure. Case in point: some card issuer programs acknowledge spend and earn behavior with charitable giving, but if the merchants that cardholders make purchases from don't participate on the issuer's platform, many transactions are left out of the initiative. As it currently stands, between issuer, acquirer and processor fees, charges can range from 2% to 20% just to ride the rails, meaning a $1 donation drops in value to 80 cents before it reaches its intended destination.
That said, there is an expansive audience for donating at retail checkout, and the multiplier effect of numerous 80-cent donations can create some impressive results. There are approximately 106.5 million U.S. households with a checking account, according to FDIC estimates, about equal to the 107 million people in the U.S. that own a smartphone, according to the Online Publishers Association. There's significant overlap in these two populations, but even a 10% adoption rate from either group, at 80 cents per donation, creates $8.5 million in giving potential.
By using social media to promote giving, merchants and their technology and service providers can reach a captive audience of consumers and charity groups and unleash this potential.
The growing impact of social media on charitable giving is significant. For example, charities that incorporate Twitter into their donation campaigns generate 10 times more money raised in online donations, according to MDG Advertising.
In the case of grocery store charity programs, merchants can leverage their existing loyalty program infrastructure or work with a service partner to enable social giving. By inviting their customers to engage on social media, grocers can boost their social giving visibility with targeted marketing. And by combining social giving and payments mechanisms that promote automated donations at the point of sale, businesses can empower consumers to be more active in social giving and increase donation levels.
Lindsay Aranha is an independent financial services and payments consultant.