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CardLinx talks with Ken Hirschman, vice president of in-store offers at Ebates discussing why they are adding in-store offers to their e-commerce cash back program and the benefits for merchants. Ken also discusses the opportunities for card-linking to become an essential and dominant component for every omni-channel marketing strategy and plan.

From your perspective, what is new and exciting about this product for the consumer?  

Ebates is the pioneer in enabling millions of our members to earn Cash Back, both online and now in store. The really exciting opportunity for our members is to take advantage of multiple ways to earn Cash Back; online, in store as well stacking additional Cash Back on top of the Cash Back you’re already receiving with the Ebates credit card. That’s a pretty powerful value prop for savvy shoppers.

The way we look at it, Ebates is fulfilling on its brand promise: Cash Back Shopping — Everywhere.

Ebates is well known for its online cash back deals to consumers. Why did you launch a new product for in-store offers? 

Ebates has been around for 17 years and we’ve worked really hard at building an online Cash Back powerhouse. We take great pride in being the pioneer and leader in this space. But we recognize that there’s an even larger opportunity in the offline or brick and mortar retail business. In the US alone, the offline retail market is somewhere around $5 Trillion USD vs. $500 Billion USD for the Ecommerce market, according to Forrester Research. Ecommerce is growing at a quicker pace, which is great for our business, but the much larger piece of pie is still offline retail.

By 2017, Forrester expects that the web will influence half of all retail purchases in some way, via store locators, price comparisons, ratings and reviews, etc. So our aim is to create rewarding experiences for our members throughout the shopping lifecycle — from searching, browsing, researching and learning all the way to check-out either online through Ebates.com or through In-Store Cash Back. We’re super excited to bring this opportunity to our members.

What’s in it for merchants? 

By providing In-Store Cash Back rewards using card-linked offer technology, merchants are able to effectively leverage the online channel to reach their desired target customers and drive in-store traffic and sales.  While offline retail remains approximately 90% of all commerce in the U.S., it is growing at a significantly smaller rate than online and for many merchants is stagnating or retrenching.  As such, card-linked offer technology provides merchants with another powerful tool for their Omni channel marketing program.  Because card-linked offers don’t require the customer to present any coupons or vouchers at checkout, there is minimal if any training of in-store sales personnel required for a marketer to get started.

Who are some of the participating merchants?

Ebates ran a pilot program of In-Store Cash Back during Q4 2015 with a small collection of leading retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue, American Eagle Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Express and The Body Shop.  We took the approach of a slow, relatively quiet rollout to test the technology and gain customer and merchant feedback.  Response was overwhelmingly positive and through the spring we continued to enhance the user experience and onboard additional merchants leading up to a full consumer marketing launch this past summer.  We have now grown to 25+ merchants in addition to our original launch partners, including Banana Republic, Bed Bath & Beyond, Cost Plus World Market, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Eddie Bauer, Gap, GNC, Kiehl’s, New York & Company, Office Depot and OfficeMax, Old Navy, with many more on the way.

With your background, can you provide some insight to how the card-linking industry might evolve over the next few years? 

While the card-linking technology and industry has been developing for several years, it is truly in its infancy and just now beginning to gain the traction necessary to achieve critical mass among consumers, merchants and technology providers alike.  There is an incredible opportunity ahead of us for card-linking to become an essential and dominant component for every omni-channel retailer’s marketing strategy and plan.  But there is much work to be done in order to drive consumer and merchant adoption.  There are several key challenges facing the growth of our industry including the need to educate consumers as to the ease, value and security of enrolling their payment cards in card-linked rewards programs.  Similarly, merchants need to be confident that transaction tracking is accurate and they are able to map card-linked transactions back into their CRM systems to better understand the value of the customers they are reaching through the channel.  Similarly, merchants want to minimize ‘double-dipping’ or stacking offers across card-linked offer networks, so greater cooperation and transparency will be required.  These are all challenges that Ebates along with Cardlinx and its membership are solving in order to drive our industry forward.

 Thank you for your time.

Ken Hirschman is General Manager and Vice President of in-store offers at Ebates, a subsidiary of the global internet services company Rakuten (RKUNF:OTC US). Ken oversees multiple functions at Ebates including: business development, M&A, legal, credit card and Ebates In-Store. At Ebates, Ken built a legal department, raised a funding round, bought six companies, opened two Asian offices, launched a de novo credit card program, quarterbacked an IPO and negotiated the sale of Ebates to Rakuten for $1 billion. 

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