Login | October 23, 2020

Akron rewards app invites shoppers back to town

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 18, 2020

The city of Akron has a new app designed to reward people who spend money in downtown and other businesses.
Called “Akronite,” with a blimp as an avatar, the smartphone app collects points through purchases at designated Akron businesses that can be redeemed for discounts at other Akron businesses.
“Our locally owned small businesses are facing enormous challenges and we need out-of-the-box ideas that safely connect them to consumers and turn local spending into a source of pride for residents,” said Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan in a statement. “The Akronite app will enable the city to reward customers for shopping local, improving revenues for our small businesses while helping folks stretch their dollars.”
The Akronite rewards users with points, called “blimps,” for each purchase that can be redeemed for purchases at other participating stores.
As of the date of this article, Hardy said that there are about 120 participating stores.
The initial group of stores emphasize minority- and woman-based businesses, said James Hardy, deputy mayor for integrated development and the lead official on this project.
Akronite is an effort of the city’s Office of Integrated Development.
Hardy said that the city “started looking around for ways to help local businesses that were being shut down by COVID-19.”
Hardy’s team started to reach out to other cities of similar size to see how they had responded to this problem, and that several of those cities said that they were working with an app-based solution to driving business back into the city.
The research led them to an Israeli company called Colu (https://colu.com/), which had created and successfully rolled out their app in Israel and several European cities.
Almost immediately, said Hardy, it was obvious that the Colu app could help bring business customers downtown.
Colu was new to the United States when Hardy contacted them.
After having a very successful run in Israel, Colu signed a couple of European cities up for the service but very quickly decided that the United States presented a much better opportunity, said Michael Mazur, vice president of business development.
The company hired the 29-year-old Mazur to set up its US operation at the beginning of 2020, set up shop in New York, and simultaneously quit Europe.
As soon as the company settled into its US offices, the pandemic hit, said Mazur.
Then the pandemic shook up the business world.
At the same time, Hardy and Mazur both said new business opportunities arose in response to the life changes that the pandemic forced on society, including pressure that cities felt to bring their businesses back to life in some form.
As Mazur started to investigate potential cities around the country for ones who could use his app, he said Akron quickly rose to the top of the list.
And then as Hardy began to look for an app that could help bring business back downtown, he said Colu rose to the top of the list.
After a number of discussions and several visits by Mazur Akron and Colu signed a development agreement and Akron became the first American city to engage Colu to design its rewards app.
“Akron wanted it the most,” Mazur said.
The Akronite app works its rewards through storing its “blimp” rewards on the app. This has some weaknesses that Colu is working to fix, said Mazur.
To utilize the app so that actual money is transferred from the customer to the business, the user has to relate the app’s account with either a credit card or a bank account.
Colu uses the electronic banking service Plaid (https://plaid.com/).
Mazur said that Colu does not store any personal information and that all of that data goes through Plaid.
Plaid however, at this time, does not process funds for all credit cards and does not process funds based on debit card numbers. If a user wants to use a bank account, Plaid requires a sign-in based on the sign-in credentials of the customer’s bank account, rather than using the debit card number.
Mazur also said that it would not be possible to use cash in this system, although the company was looking into using gift cards or pre-paid debit cards for people without bank accounts or credit cards, and that the company was looking into using cryptocurrency sometime in the future.
For his part, Hardy said that he loves the app. He said that he had collected about $8 worth of blimps on his app and was looking for somewhere to spend them.
Hopefully, he said, more and more people will download and begin using Akronite.