The past few weeks we’ve been busy recruiting local merchants. GreenCampusPoints’ beta site is up and running and now open to Boston University students. And while we have more than 40 online retailers available, we needed to complement these with a variety of on campus alternatives where students can shop and earn more Points.
We started by surveying students about where and what they buy, and then used the results to develop a list of initial places to target. The value of a program like ours increases the more locations where members can earn and redeem Points. Recruiting local merchants also reinforces our link to the university and helps embed us in the local student community.
Our conversations with merchants revealed a number of observations that you might find helpful when trying to appeal to local businesses.
1. Environmentally-Friendliness is the Norm
The vast majority of local merchants we approached are in favor of helping the environment and found our program compelling (using a Points-based reward system to link consumer shopping behavior with CO2 reduction). A few were so excited that they even offered to help sell GreenCampusPoints to other merchants.
2. Delivering More Customers is Still King
While business owner interest in the environment is a plus, merchants are still primarily driven by an interest in things that interest and motivate their customers.
3. Daily Deal Overload
We found that a significant number of merchants have tried some form of daily deal promotion, but many were left with mixed emotions. Daily deal sites drive revenue, but they also take a significant percentage of margin and tend to be mostly seen as one-offs. Merchants were eager to find a lower-cost program that provide an ongoing promotional platform they can use to incent and rewards customers in a ways that matter to them.
4. Being a Good Neighbor is Good Business
Most local businesses see themselves as part of a larger university community. They are constantly on the lookout for ways to support issues that are important to the institution (in our case this is Boston University) and its students, faculty and alumni.
5. No Cost, No Problem
We removed the initial financial risk associated with trying our program by giving merchants their first 2205 Points (the equivalent of one metric tonne of CO2) for free. Because it won’t cost them anything, they have nothing to lose. Merchants only start paying after we’ve already demonstrated that our promotional program is driving sales.
6. Don’t Impact Existing Processes
Merchants are very conscious of cashier productivity - especially during busy times of the day. We tried to make it as simple as possible for their employees by having students use their phones to snap photos of their receipts and submit them to us for verification.
Another big lesson (which should come as no surprise) is that local businesses vary widely in terms of how they evaluate opportunities and make decisions. Some local managers are empowered. Other definitely are not. We got “yes” most often when we were able to speak with a store manager who had the ability make decisions locally.
We’ve used these lessons to not only refine our approach, but also tailor both our offer and our messaging. This has enabled us to become more effective at selling prospective merchants on the benefits of GreenCampusPoints and signing them up for our initial pilot.