Loyalty cards for independent shops boost local economy

Following a successful pilot in Liverpool, a loyalty card scheme for independent shops is being rolled out in cities across the UK in a bid to reclaim the high streets of Britain and beyond

If Sainsbury’s draws in customers with Nectar Points and Tesco attracts buyers with its Club Card, why can’t local butchers, bakers and coffee shops use a similar tool? Recent graduates David Williams and Oliver Press, both 23, asked themselves this very question. When they saw the fourth chain supermarket open up in their area and many independent retailers close down, they knew it was time to act.

The pair came up with the idea for Independent Liverpool: a loyalty card offering discounts in independent shops around the city. People buy the card online for £10 and get benefits in all participating stores and cafes, which are advertised through a mobile app. Offers range from discounts to buy one get one free hot drinks.

Within months, 5,000 Liverpudlians had bought the card and over 60 independent retailers, cafes and restaurant owners had come on board.

“It’s been a crazy journey so far,” reflects Williams. “The weirdest and best moment was probably when one man told me that he’d been about to leave town because he was disillusioned with the way things were going in the city. He learned about our movement and decided to stay. People don’t just join for the perks, but for the feeling it gives them. They love to be a part of something positive and local.”

“People don’t just join for the perks, but for the feeling it gives them. They love to be a part of something positive and local”

The scheme has already expanded to Birmingham and is launching in Cardiff, Chester, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, with more cities to follow later this year. Williams and Press are also working on a Groupon-type daily deals app exclusively for independent businesses, and on 4 July they’ll launch Independents Day to celebrate independent shops.

“The feedback from owners and residents has been overwhelming, but we’re not special people. We just loved our city, had an idea and worked hard to make it happen,” Williams says.

Similar initiatives have had success in other parts of the UK too. Bristol Independents ran a Christmas loyalty card scheme last year, giving people an extra incentive for doing their December shopping with independent businesses. Shoppers there can even use their city’s very own currency: the Bristol Pound, to pay for their purchases.

Councils and civil society organisations in other countries are also experimenting with community currencies. From its base in Netherlands, Qoin provides digital points-systems to local communities which operate as a supplement to conventional money and are designed to “address issues or problems that otherwise would remain unmet in the current money system.”

One such system is the EU-funded Positoos scheme, which is used as a motivational tool by councils, housing and care institutions to reward ‘good’ behaviour, such as volunteering, paying bills on time and helping out in the neighbourhood. Each awarded point is worth one cent in the real economy, which citizens can use as credit to buy goods and services from local shops or donate to a chosen local charity.