As the saying goes, the best things in life are free. And while we would never be able to walk into a shop, pick up a product, and legally walk out without paying, most of us jump at the chance for the second-best option – being rewarded for shopping at our favourite shops and malls.
Yes, we're talking about the ever-faithful loyalty card schemes. You buy what you want, receive points in return for your purchases, and once you have enough points, you exchange them for an exciting reward. And at the end of the day, everyone's a winner. The customer continues to return to their favourite shop to earn more points, and, of course, in return, the retailer's revenue increases thanks to customer loyalty.
But now, one particular company in the UAE has taken the concept a step further; instead of targeting customers already in the country, its scheme attempts to attract more tourists to Dubai.
Launched by Vice Versa International at 2007's Arabian Travel Market (ATM), the Vice Versa card comes as part of a complimentary welcome package for visitors to Dubai, where tourists and business travellers can shop at selected outlets, and in return, get rewarded with a proportional percentage of the purchase amount onto the card, an amount referred to as "card-cash". Users can then redeem the value on their card at the Vice Versa partner outlets – therefore, in effect making money as they spend money.
Now as Vice Versa gears up to partner with this year's Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS), which begins on June 22, the loyalty programme has gone from strength to strength, not only encouraging more tourists to shop in Dubai, but also driving accelerated sales for its participating partner outlets.
"Rolling out a brand new concept like we did definitely raised brows in the market," Kira Milan, Founder and Managing Director of Vice Versa International tells Emirates Business.
"But once the ball started rolling and the market saw value in our concept, we experienced an unparalleled growth, especially in 2008. Our network of partner outlets and business partners has grown considerably,
and we are able to provide visitors with the widest options possible. Over the past year, our programme has generated sales worth more than Dh10 million at our partner outlets."
And while some loyalty cards are tied to a few particular brands, Vice Versa has partnered with an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and even spas and lounges to offer visitors to the emirate the best possible shopping experience. Participating outlets range from Aldo to Yo! Sushi, and from Franck Provost to Lotus One.
Kira says: "We had set out to create the most attractive and transparent reward programme that benefits its users and participating merchants alike, and on average, more than 75 per cent of rewarded card-cash has been redeemed by our card users at our partner outlets, reflecting the acceptance of the programme by the tourist market. Additionally, around 10 per cent of our card users have chosen to upgrade to our Gold Card programme for a membership and longer duration of benefits and an equal percentage of new card users have signed up based on recommendations by existing users."
So how did the idea of the Vice Versa card come about?
Ole Milan, Co-Founder of the company says: "The Idea came up at the end of 2004, looking at different card schemes trying to reward loyal customers. The challenges with most of the existing programmes is that you needed to sign up, it took time to receive the cards, the programmes were not transparent, and the rewards weren't that desirable leaving the consumer with very few options to choose from."
And it seems that the idea has paid off if the company's statistics are anything to go by. Since May 2007, Vice Versa has distributed approximately 90,000 Welcome Packages, with most users coming from other emirates in the UAE, and other states in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait. Vice Versa's second biggest region of users comes from Europe with the UK, Russia and Germany having the most, followed by Asia, particularly visitors from India and Pakistan.
Included in the Welcome Package is a guide to Dubai – with basic information about the city in four languages – a map of Dubai, floor plans of all the major malls and listings of more than 275 partner outlets offering an instant cash-reward percentage. This is why organisers of Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) continue to take Vice Versa on board.
The company's debut occurred last summer at DSS 2007, and Kira and Ole haven't looked back since.
And to celebrate this year's DSS, Vice Versa will issue a specially branded DSS card to promote the event. Every week, one lucky user will find up to Dh3,000 in card-cash hidden on their card to spend instantly at the special summer event.
Vice Versa is also introducing bigger percentages on card-cash with every purchase in a bid to encourage more visitors to shop.
Kira says: "We had a chance to be a part of the DSS in 2007 and we are proud to be a part of this year's DSS as well to help visitors get the most out of their visit to Dubai. "Besides giving visitors a chance to win extra holiday money, we have introduced a new and exciting promotion where the representative who hands out the winner card will also win the same reward amount once the card is used. So this year, we have rewards for everyone."
Loyalty programmes in the UAE
According to market researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States, it is estimated that around 85 per cent of both Brits and Americans own at least one loyalty card. This percentage could soon apply to residents in the UAE, thanks to the increasing number of loyalty programmes in the region, as well as the cosmopolitan nature of the UAE.
Of course, these schemes aren't really free, which is why you are likely not to find loyalty cards at stores, which offer cheaper-priced items in comparison to their competitors.
However, if you do sign up, then there are a few rules you should always follow. Firstly, only take out the card if you shop regularly at that particular store. Having the card of an outlet you don't usually visit may encourage you to make hasty purchases.
When shopping, make sure your choices are according to the price, and not points. After all, a product is likely to be much cheaper if it doesn't come with 'benefits'. Finally, take advantage of any other deals available to boost those points, but only if you would normally buy the products.
Here are some of the loyalty schemes currently on offer in the country:
MAGRUDY'S LOYALTY CARD
Book lovers can sign up for a Magrudy's loyalty card and earn real money back on purchases. Every time you shop at one of their shops, you collect one point for every dirham you spend. Points are then converted into gift vouchers that can be used at any of Magrudy's outlets.
UAE AIR MILES
The international customer loyalty programme has its own branch in the UAE allowing you to claim free rewards – including travel, accommodation, electronic products and movie tickets – as you shop at participating outlets. Simply collect enough Air Miles, then choose a free reward by going online by calling their service centre.
Skywards works similarly to Air Miles, but it is predominantly associated with Emirates Airlines. The more you fly with the carrier, the more miles you earn. The scheme also works with other non-airline partners, including the Jumeirah Group. You can then use your Skywards miles to upgrade flights, shop at The Emirates High Street, or claim other rewards.
CENTREPOINT PRIVILEGE CLUB
Customers shopping at Centrepoint, Babyshop, Shoe Mart, Splash, Lifestyle, Home Centre, Ecco, Lee Cooper and Fun City can save up to 10 per cent by collecting points. Additionally, members are invited for sale previews, which provides the opportunity to win free gifts through draws and competitions.
STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST
As part of the hotel and leisure group's programme, you earn two points for every dollar spent at more than 860 of Starwood's hotel chains in the world, including the UAE's Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, and the soon-to-be-open W. Rewards include free nights, merchandise and once-in-a-lifetime entertainment rewards, such as VIP tickets to concerts.