Rewards programs are everywhere these days. CVS ExtraCare and MyPanera cards jangle next to keys on purple NU lanyards and Vera Bradley wristlets, and Starbucks Gold Cards provide the perfect excuse for two Americanos a day.
Sometimes, though, all those cards are too hard to keep track of. And that’s where Belly comes in. Belly, a universal loyalty program based in Chicago, allows customers at a variety of partner businesses to track points and earn rewards all on one free smartphone app or physical card.
Here in Evanston, 15 businesses, both locally owned and franchised, have started using Belly, including Coffee Lab on Noyes. “We were the 1.0 group to try it,” Coffee Lab barista Winter Hamilton says, while expertly cranking the whistling espresso machine. Coffee Lab adopted the rewards program in November 2011, two months after Belly launched. Since then, Belly has expanded beyond Chicago to 16 other cities around the nation. The company provided Coffee Lab with an iPad that scans customers’ rewards cards or smartphones and displays a simplistic screen summarizing users’ points acquired.
At Coffee Lab, for example, any purchase puts five points on your Belly card, and reaching different levels of points earns you a variety of free drinks. As you go up the scale of points at Coffee Lab, drink rewards become noticeably more luxurious. At the lowest level, 40 points, a Belly user earns a small coffee, says barista Chris An. But at the highest level, 60 points, a large cappuccino is the reward. The gastronomically inspired program may seem a bit confusing at first, but users such as Communication sophomore Grace Wright say it gets easier.
Wright didn’t even know that the program had made its way up to little old E-town, but she’s definitely interested in racking up some points around here. Hamilton hopes that eventually customers will catch on to the simplicity of Belly.
“Everything that’s done is on the customer’s part," she says. "It’s intimidating, but the truth of the matter is it’s so easy. It’s mindless."
Up on Noyes, a few of Coffee Lab’s neighbors and NU favorites like I Dream of Sweets Bistro, D & D Dogs and Rollin’ To Go use the innovative loyalty program.
And for those who live on South campus, downtown Evanston houses a cluster of Belly users, as well. Besides restaurants like Greek Fire Grill and Flat Top, several salons like Steven Papageorge, Nail Bar and Salon Lotus offer Belly rewards. A lot of Belly businesses are privately owned, which has certainly affected how word about the program has spread.
Wright encountered it during a trip to the Southport area off the Brown Line for a class project. The owner of an eco-friendly boutique called EmBo showed Wright Belly after she made a purchase. Most of the privately owned boutiques in that area have Belly, says Wright, adding that the concept works for small businesses because it creates a sense of community.
Hamilton likes to think it’s the coffee she brews that’s still bringing people to Coffee Lab, not just its partnership with Belly. She said she hasn’t noticed much of a difference in business since the program’s introduction. Wright, a Starbucks Gold card owner who didn’t know Coffee Lab used Belly, agrees.
“I think it’s more of a thing where the rewards card isn’t going to make me go to a place more than I ever went before, but if I know I have rewards at Starbucks but I don’t at some other coffee place, then I’ll choose Starbucks,” she says.
But hey, for still being fairly new, Belly seems to have the right idea. Consumers like a good product, be that a perfectly brewed cup of coffee or “I just needed to get rid of these dead ends” trim. With the extra incentive that Belly provides, everyone wins. As they say, the best way to man’s heart (or money) is his Belly.