American Express and Foursquare connect in the UK

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I was pretty excited when I first learned that American Express were bringing their Foursquare promotional offerings to the UK, their first market for this outside the US.

Just as in the US, what the promotion does for American Express cardholders in the UK is give you special offers when you check in with Foursquare at one of the participating partner locations.

This is not an unusual procedure – it’s common with many retail outlets, restaurants, cinemas, etc, who do coupons, discounts and more via Foursquare (and, indeed, other location-based services) that you access primarily through a mobile device such as a smartphone.

One huge difference between this and other such promos involving Foursquare, though, is that the offer is from a financial institution and is a lot about a tangible cash discount in real money that’s credited to your Amex card account – no coupons, vouchers, etc. And it happens in the background automatically once you’ve connected your Amex card with your Foursquare account.

I experienced the promo in action yesterday when I visited a Tesco Extra store in Reading. Once I checked in on Foursquare, I saw a notification on the screen of my mobile device that a ‘check-in special’ was available to me. If I didn’t have an Amex card, or hadn’t yet connected it to my Foursquare account, that special would not have appeared on my device.

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How it works at a partner location is quite simple:

  1. Check in with Foursquare.
  2. Once checked in, you’ll see a notice on your screen saying “You unlocked a Special!” Tap on that to get to the next screen that details the offer. In this particular example at Tesco in Reading, it was spend £5 and get £5 back.
  3. Tap the green bar saying “Load to Card”; you’ll then get a screen with a yellow bar saying “Loaded!”.
  4. Do your shopping and pay at the checkout with your Amex card, ensuring you spend at least the minimum amount as required by the offer. Then expect to see the credit on your Amex account in 3-5 days.

What I like about this method of reward is the seamlessness of it – once you’ve  connected your Amex and Foursquare accounts, everything works in the background. You don’t have to present anything to a sales assistant or checkout person – just shop, pay and go, and then look for the credit on your card statement.

It’s simplicity like this that I think makes it likely that such promotions will be accepted by people who aren’t the early adopters and tech enthusiasts; rather, the consumer majority, those who could care less how it works, just that it does work, and does so without much fuss. When UK consumers hear about the programme, it may prompt them to try it out, meaning using Foursquare which they might otherwise not have done – and thus increasing exposure to other offers, and discovering those offers easily with the latest version of the Foursquare app – as well as using the Amex card to pay for the groceries, which they might otherwise not have done.

Which, I imagine, are among the key goals behind American Express, Foursquare and partners like Tesco doing this.

Given that it’s still early days for marketing programmes like this, there’s some clunkiness in getting set up in my experience. You have to connect your Amex card with your Foursquare account – sync them as Amex describes it – which is fine except it didn’t work at all when I first tried it on the Amex website, giving me an error and taking me to a traditional customer service help-request form on the website.

I was then exposed to good old Web 1.0 legacy communication where – as I joked in a tweet to Amex UK – I might hear from  someone by email within two business days (eventually I did, with the helpful suggestion to try again).

Trying again, this time using Internet Explorer rather than Firefox that I’d used previously, worked and I was able to sync my card, prompting a couple of auto-emails to confirm that fact, which helped me feel confident that all would work well.

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Amex uses an interesting phrase in describing the sync procedure, referring to an “eligible American Express card.” That means a personal card only, no corporate or pre-paid cards, which can be issued by an Amex partner institution not only American Express directly. It’s definitely worth reading the terms and conditions and the FAQ.

Amex have also produced a friendly video that explains the programme and how it works.

Initial set-up frustration aside, this is a well-created programme, one that if successful may well set a benchmark for loyalty engagement and rewards using location-based tools like Foursquare, whether for one-time-only promos like this one or more engaging types of promotion.

One thing I do like, too, is how the prominent name is that of the promo partner, in this case Tesco, rather than Amex or Foursquare. The latter are the plumbing, as it were, that make things happen. So your primary focus is on the deal at the partner rather than how the deal happens. Which, in my view, is exactly how it ought to be.

As a final thought in this post, I’d like to see everything even more seamless. For instance, it would add to my confidence in it, and maybe stimulate me to engage more, if a note of my special at Tesco were included on the till receipt I received at the checkout. That would make it all seem, well, even more legitimate.

But, early days and no doubt it all will become ever more seamless.

As for my credit, I’ll be keeping an eye on my Amex card account statement in the coming days. And looking for more specials.

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About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.