The history of loyalty evolved from copper to cards to points.
Some say the history of loyalty started in Ancient Egypt, because its citizens could earn tokens to trade for food and goods. This seems less like loyalty and more like currency. Still, we respect their innovation. But we’ll start in the 1700s with James Conder’s copper tokens.
We begin with Conder’s savvy marketing approach for his drape shop in 1794. During this period, the British people desired formal currency to accompany industrial development. Many, like Conder, collected and documented the popular business practice of pressing coins. Yet, Conder went further than many by tying a value to his tokens. Through this incentive, he aimed to retain customers of his Ipswich-based store. Similarly, a New York Times article from 1971 cites a New Hampshire man who used copper tokens to gain customers in 1793. Perhaps we can credit both men with stamping a lasting legacy on future loyalty programs.
Large businesses then moved to paper rather than coins. After all, who can afford all that copper? This change was famously popularized by B.T. Babbitt who allowed customers to swap “Trade Marks” for goods in the 1850s. These Trade Marks, available from existing products, were used to buy items from Babbitt’s Catalogue of Mailable Premiums. Moreover, Babbitt’s idea was a precursor to trademarks as we know them today. Now, that’s innovative.
Improvements in technology and production led to a new loyalty in the 20th century. To start, Betty Crocker picked up on B.T. Babbitt’s progress by offering box-top coupons redeemable for kitchenware. This was a huge success and continued until 2006. Moreover, General Mills (Betty Crocker owner) fostered personal, homey relationships that moved the brand through multiple generations of families.
Next, we have the American Express card. This card program is perhaps the best known of all loyalty programs. In 1966, AmEx introduced its first corporate card to differentiate its offers between businesses and consumers. Later, this distinction grew to include multiple tiers of loyalty, which placed AmEx cards in millions of wallets worldwide. Today, the platinum card continues to be a loyalty holy grail.
Today, consumers don’t even need a card. Starbucks Rewards revolutionized loyalty in the mid-2000s, making it today’s most used loyalty rewards app. This led to a fully digital experience where customers earn points, get rewards and see their account balance. As another example, the TruCash digital wallet presents a virtual space to accompany prepaid cards. Customers can use this wallet to pay bills and shop worldwide—card-free. The history of loyalty is a winding road and it certainly has more in store as digital products evolve.
Make your own loyalty history with a custom TruCash program today.