What we can learn from Japan’s map to loyalty

Fri, 25/02/2022 - 11:24

I’m a big nerd and I’m a big fan of anime. I was watching a show the other day where the main character had a mall loyalty map. As he visited certain stores, he would get his loyalty map stamped. Once he hit five stamps, he could enter a lucky draw for the day. This piqued my interest, so I did some research into Japanese consumer loyalty card systems.

The first thing to understand is that Japan’s loyalty cards run independently of chains and financial institutions. This gives them the freedom to partner with just about anyone to the benefit of the consumer. Typically, a Japanese consumer can manage their entire cashback scheme with just one card without having to carry around retail specific cards. Here in South Africa, some major chains have more than one card – dependent on which branch you visit (not pointing fingers, but they’re friendly, wherever you are). One loyalty card for everything sounds like a distant dream. Up until a few years ago, the Tstutaya card was the biggest loyalty programme in Japan. With 68 million members, 900,000 locations and 179 retail chains, the card was a savings powerhouse. For every 100 yen spent, you’d get 1 yen back, and since you could use it for almost everything you purchased, the savings could be astronomical. Recently, competitors have arisen and the T-card is not as popular as it used to be. Competition is always a good thing, so the cards available today offer even greater benefits.

With more complex points systems leading to better rewards, a new sub-culture has arisen, the poikatsu influencer. Poikatsu is the art of hacking loyalty cards, looking for retailer loopholes, and maximising savings. Influencers put together hacks and tips to help consumers get the most out of their cards, although most of the practices are a little on the dodgy side. With COVID-19, poikatsu went from being a hobby to being a viable source of income for many. The reason that loyalty programmes are so ubiquitous in Japan is that despite being the pioneer of cashless payment systems, 80% of Japanese consumers say they prefer using cash. Loyalty cards are an attempt to change consumer behaviour, but they’re fighting a losing battle it seems. Physical currency is part legal tender, part cultural artifact. There is a ceremonial role that cash plays in Japanese society.

Back to the loyalty map. How it works is simple. A mall will issue a loyalty map upon entering. You’re shown which stores are currently having specials and you can get a stamp at each participating store. Once you’ve hit a prerequisite number of stamps, you can turn your map in for a spin of a wheel, raffle, or daily giveaway. It’s such a simple system, but it means that you plan a consumer’s day by category. You can push them to stores that are under-performing or areas of the mall with less foot traffic all with something as simple as a paper map and a few rubber stamps.

There are several property groups that are trying to move away from the siloed nature of the retailer’s tenant experience. They’re putting together forums and committees and generally getting retailers more involved in what happens in the shopping space. When these plans come to fruition, the consumer will only benefit. Removing these obstacles could lead to new shopping experiences and loyalty programmes, and who knows, maybe one day you’ll be enthusiastically asking a shopkeeper to stamp your mall map so you can win a vacuum cleaner.

*This article originally appeared on Retailing Africa

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