Lightbank Backs Belly, A Customer Loyalty And Rewards Platform For Local Businesses

A new Chicago-based startup is emerging today as a contender in the local business customer loyalty and rewards space. Belly (formally Bellyflop) is hoping to replace those old punchcards you receive at local merchants. And the startup is debuting with an investment from Lightbank, the venture firm founded by Groupon co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell. While the exact amount of the investment was not disclosed, we understand it is in the seven-figures.

Belly wants to reinvent customer loyalty rewards through gamification and digital check-ins. But the startup has a slightly different take on how to achieve this. Here’s how Belly works. Belly offers a quick-setup, plug-and-play rewards platform to merchants. Part of this is an in-store iPad (which Belly supplies) that is used to validate paying customers right at the point of sale, and serves as a check-in point. Belly will also train employees to encourage them to participate in the program.

Merchants pay a monthly subscription unlimited Belly cards to hand out to customers, in-store marketing materials and secure access to customer data that reveals sales, points and redemption data, as well as insights into foot traffic and card usage patterns. Businesses can even use Belly data to send out push-notifications about exclusive promotions and other rewards to Belly customers.

On the consumer side, to check in, customers can scan their smartphone at an in-store iPad POS and with each check-in, you get closer to a specific milestone, and reward (as stipulated by the business). You simply scan a Belly card (provided by the merchant), or use Belly’s iPhone or Android Apps on the businesses’ Belly iPad app (which sits next to the register). Once you check-in you accumulate points, and can start earning rewards.

On the Belly mobile apps themselves, you can simply open the app and see a list of merchants that are Belly users by your location. The app completely replaces the merchant card at all of these businesses. With the Belly card, you have one universal rewards card (that is attached to your email) which can be used at all participating Belly merchants.

As co-founder and CEO Logan LaHive explains, consumers don’t want to carry several different cards, and businesses need a loyalty system that everyone can use. And businesses are able to tailor their rewards program.

Currently rewards at businesses range from a comic book store that offers customers a chance to punch the owner in the stomach, to a bakery that rewards customer 10 minutes all you can eat cupcakes. You can arm wrestle a sandwich restaurant owner or ride along in a food truck that will let its best customers “egg” the truck as it drives by. Belly works closely with each individual business to ensure the rewards are unique and personalized to that business.

Currently Belly already has been installed at 285 businesses in the Chicago area and nearly 50 new businesses are being added to Belly every week, along with 500 new users a day. In just 12 weeks since its pilot launch, Belly has more than 18,000 users and 50,000 check-ins. LaHive says that many of the stores are seeing more check-ins through Belly than Facebook, Foursquare and Gowalla combined. Belly plans to expand nationally in the next few months.

One of the added bonuses for businesses is that they can see when each customer is checking-in, how often and more. Businesses can get a clear view of their most loyal and valuable customers. another data area where Belly may expand into is transaction data. Currently the app doesn’t track what the customer actually bought but is looking to integrate with Point of Sale systems in the future.

Belly faces competition LevelUp, Perka, PerkVille, PunchTab and others.