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Proposed rewards card could promote “Buy Local” effort

An informational meeting is planned for Thursday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. at the Chamber of Commerce office in Lewiston to promote a proposed rewards card that would encourage customers to “Buy Local.”

The card would reward customers with money back in their pocket, save merchants on processing fees and benefit a community just for shopping locally. Auburn Mayor Dick Gleason contacted Synderesis Technologies, a Virginia-based company with a product called My Axis Point to learn about such a card.

He described the program, which would be called The Maine Rewards Card by My Axis Point, as providing an opportunity for a community to rally around a “Buy Local” campaign.

Merchants will save on processing fees and have targeted marketing information; consumers will have all their loyalty/rewards points in one convenient place and can “opt-in” to receive promotions and discounts; and by keeping customers local, consumers will have a stronger sense of patronage and a higher revenue base.

Gleason, who owns an Internet service and radio stations, has long been a proponent of a “shop local” campaign. “We have got to get beyond a coupon punch card and coupon book,” he said. “The loyalty rewards and cash-back incentives would give people tangible financial reasons to shop locally.”

Here’s how it could work:

Shoppers would use their rewards card like a payment or gift card, then use a website to manage their funds or purchase items from local retailers.

The card would be accepted at any local retailer who opts in to the program.

Unlike other reward cards, it would cost nothing for consumers to participate, and they would be able to manage their accounts and keep track of their rewards online.

With each purchase, a percentage would go back to the customer to be used for a reward program, and the merchant would only be charged 0.80% as a transaction fee.

The more customers use it, the less a business will pay in transaction fees to merchant processing companies.

The cards are safer than any traditional payment card. They’re PIN-based and carry no actual financial data aside from that PIN number: in the wrong hands, it is just a piece of plastic.

Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison thought the concept was a great idea. “If it can work, it’s going to benefit the community and the businesses,” he said. “Shopping local would be enhanced if you were financially rewarded as a merchant and shopper. This will enhance the Chamber’s Member-to-Member Discount Coupon,” which can be found on the Chamber’s website, AndroscogginCounty.com, Morrison said.

Synderesis Technologies is a company dedicated to making simple and effective IT solutions for businesses and consumers. There is a patent pending for the program, which would allow it to interface with any merchant’s cash register and computer program. It would be batched out like any other credit card machine.

“Currently, retailers are charged anywhere from 3 to 9 percent for transaction fees depending on the merchant card company,” said Synderesis CEO Rob Bohn. “In the proposed program, companies would only be charged 0.80 percent when a customer uses our community card.”

For the fourth year in a row, a national survey of independent businesses has found that those in communities with an active “Buy Local” campaign have experienced markedly stronger revenue growth compared to those located in areas without such a campaign.

The survey, gathered data from 2,768 independent businesses, including retailers, service providers, restaurants and others. It found that those in places with a “Buy Local” initiative reported revenue growth of 5.6% on average in 2010, compared to 2.1% for those elsewhere.

Business owners in cities with active “Buy Local” campaigns reported a wide range of positive impacts on their business. Almost half reported that the campaign had brought new customers to their business and 55% said it had made existing customers more loyal.

“This survey offers further proof that, with sustained efforts, communities can indeed raise local consciousness and build a culture of support for local entrepreneurs,” said Jennifer Rockne, executive director of the American Independent Business Alliance. “Remarkably, most of the campaigns operated by Independent Business Alliances are funded by businesses paying some type of dues per month. However, they’re getting quite a return on their investment.”

“Small, local businesses generate the majority of new jobs in the U.S.,” said Michelle Long, executive director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. “Buy Local First campaigns help bring these businesses and residents together to build community health and wealth—from the bottom up.”

Michele Tribou local owner of Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli in Auburn, sat in on the original meeting and said she planned to offer the service. “I am so excited,” she said. “This will be great for the area. When I first rolled out the Heidi’s rewards card, I saw an increase of 10% of revenue within the first six months,” she said.

The informational meeting is planned for Thursday, December 8 at 2 p.m. at the Chamber office, 415 Lisbon St., Lewiston. Reservations are requested at 784-5868.

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