The city of Akron, Ohio, launched a program designed to help support the local businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic and encourage a more circular economy.
The program rewards shoppers for shopping locally through a city-sponsored app called Akronite, from which shoppers receive reward points for every purchase they make. The reward points are called “blimps” after the Goodyear Blimp, which is based in Akron.
Blimps can be redeemed at any of the participating stores for discounted or even free services. At the end of the month, the city reimburses the businesses for these redeemed values.
James Hardy, Akron’s deputy mayor of integrated development, says that the app is “encouraging citizens to spend money [locally] while putting cash back into their pockets.”
The reward system looks a lot like any credit card cash-back points program—the more you shop, the more rewards you earn. This makes purchasing from local and small businesses fun for consumers while encouraging them to think twice before buying from a big chain store when they can get more bang for their buck at the small café across the street.
Michael Mazur, vice president of business development at Colu, the entity responsible for building the app used to run Akronite, says that constantly rewarding people for doing something they were going to do anyway makes them want to come back for more. He also says that collecting rewards becomes a conversation point among social circles, and that “it becomes a game, a friendly competition.”
While shoppers enjoy the savings, the real goal is to support local business owners by creating loyalty and giving them a new way of attracting new customers. Since the launch of the app, businesses are reporting that regular customers are visiting more frequently and spending more money.
The program is also aimed at helping Black-owned businesses in particular by offering even greater discounts for shopping at these stores. In addition to this, the app is designed to accommodate advertising space for nonprofits so that their stories can reach their target audiences. In the future, the team plans to add ways to reward front-line workers, disabled merchants, and other underprivileged communities who need the support.
The success of the app in Akron has inspired the Colu team to expand the initiative to include other cities such as Boston and some regions in California.
This story is part of our ‘Best of 2021’ series highlighting our top solutions from the year. Today we’re featuring lifestyle solutions.