Advantex SmartBar rewards surfers automatically

The roll-out of their respective online loyalty programs is still months away, but when their programs do hit the marketplace later this year, both CIBC and Air Canada will be using a proprietary new tool that 'follows' Web surfers around the...

The roll-out of their respective online loyalty programs is still months away, but when their programs do hit the marketplace later this year, both CIBC and Air Canada will be using a proprietary new tool that ‘follows’ Web surfers around the Internet and automatically rewards them with Aeroplan miles.

The tool, developed by Advantex Marketing International, rewards surfers not just for making online purchases, but even for simply visiting sponsor Web sites and navigating through their pages.

The Advantex SmartBar is actually a Web browser extension that is visible to users on their computer screen as they move around the Web. In addition to being able to automatically calculate and issue rewards to registered program members, the SmartBar will be able to tell which sites are being visited and make recommendations to users about similar sites that may be part of the Advantex program.

The announcement of Air Canada and CIBC’s expanded involvement with Advantex, which has worked with both companies for a number of years on existing loyalty programs, was made in Toronto on Nov. 22.

In addition to developing the SmartBar technology, Advantex, a Toronto-based firm that specializes in developing and managing multi-partner loyalty programs, will recruit outside partners and administer the program on behalf of CIBC and Air Canada. According to Advantex chairman and CEO Randall Munger, as many as 50 online merchants, both in Canada and the U.S., have agreed to participate in the initiative, which he says will likely launch this spring.

‘The market for what we’re doing is extremely receptive,’ Munger says, adding that the names of participating sponsors will be announced in the near future. ‘We have a very hot product here that retailers are very anxious to associate with because there’s little doubt that Aeroplan miles motivate people to change their [purchasing] behaviour.’

In addition to expanding the scope of its existing Advantex Aerogold Visa program, which rewards card users with Aeroplan miles, CIBC says it plans to use the SmartBar tool with new online loyalty initiatives that will be added to several of its existing Visa credit card products. The new programs, which will be introduced later this year, won’t necessarily reward members with Aeroplan miles, according to Ernie Johannson, vice-president, marketing and business development for CIBC Cards Division.

Stressing that reward points, in general, are a ‘great tool for customer retention’, Johannson says CIBC has ‘a long tradition of continuing to add incremental value to our cardholders through innovative program features and benefits. So, [Advantex SmartBar] is totally in line with our strategy.

‘Typically, what we find is that adding incremental value propositions to our cards does encourage customers to take our cards out of their wallets first when they make a purchase,’ she says. ‘That’s pretty important when you’re looking at a marketplace with a lot of competition.’

Air Canada, meanwhile, expects to launch a new SmartBar-powered online Aeroplan program in the spring, once it finalizes the integration of Canadian Airlines’ Canadian Plus loyalty program into its own, ultimately creating a combined customer database of more than six million names.

According to Marc Trudeau, vice-president of marketing and corporate development with Air Canada’s Aeroplan division, the expansion of the Aeroplan program onto the Advantex SmartBar platform is part of a larger overall strategy by the national airline to expand its loyalty program onto the Internet and ‘widen the scope of its sources of accumulation for members.’

It was a strategy that was already being implemented before the amalgamation of the Aeroplan and Canadian Plus loyalty programs began in the fall. However, the huge amount of work required to bring the two programs together forced Air Canada to put some of its plans on the back burner, Trudeau says.

He adds, though, that by the spring, the Aeroplan program will be bigger and better than ever, with a whole new range of mile accumulation opportunities available to members, although not exclusively through Advantex. More interested in customer retention, cross-selling and up-selling opportunities than acquisitions, Trudeau says the Advantex offering fits well within Aeroplan’s strategic focus, as it represents an untapped potential source of revenue.

‘The rate of adoption of new technologies and new electronic devices within our customer base is very, very high,’ he says. ‘So, the potential for our customer base to use the Web for travel booking and other commercial purposes is very significant.’