I am an early adopter of the “Kauai Coffee Subscription” and I really think it could be the way of the future for many brands. As someone helping another company or two with loyalty, it was in my best interest to see what the Kauai deal was all about. For the uninitiated, you pay R149 for a month of coffee. The coffee must be “short” and it doesn’t strictly have to be coffee – they have a hot chocolate and ‘flu fighter’ type herbal tea that will have you gagging when the cayenne pepper hits the back of your throat. Other rules include, you can redeem two a day, at least two hours apart (no buying for friends when meeting for a coffee, I guess) and they don’t rollover – ie. if I don’t have two today I can’t have four tomorrow. Other than that it’s pretty simple – it’s roughly R2.50 per cup of double shot espresso coffee in a variety of formats, though I always go for the flat white, or cortado.

Where does this leave us? I think it will take South African brands a while to get into this type of thing, especially app-based loyalty like this. For me the trick is to make it easy to use, easy to redeem, super easy to know where you stand with your loyalty and not have more than 4-5 basic rules that are easy to grasp and abide by. Have you ever seen those loyalty things that give you 5% off if within 30 days you redeem so and so, with your ID attached, but if you’re over 30, and on mobile, then you need to text your gran, to mail someone on support in Iceland to tell their colleague to update your app to …. you get the point.

Companies. If you ever introduce tech, test it, and ensure that it makes life easier, and not more painful for your customers. It is possible. Tech can change the world positively, and not just waste folks time on Tiktok, IG, and whatnot. Stay tuned for a big business idea in that space from me in years to come; I really think there is opportunity to make a real difference using those platforms, and others, to have good change in places like South Africa. For one, why not have city cameras monitored by volunteers who can spot criminals, and alert a central hub of just 5-6 people?

For two, why not do something similar with traffic lights that sit on red for ages while cars are queueing up? The time wasted by 20 citizens at one traffic light adds up when you multiply it by every traffic light, every day, for years on end.

Those had nothing to do with loyalty, but that is how all my writing goes: down a random rabbit hole, and then at the end I try weave it back into loyalty.

Could cities have loyalty for their citizens? Could you be a “good capetonian” and get more benefits?

For example a discount on your water bill, free refuse collection, priority service, or other things? I dunno, but maybe the government-run things in the world needs to be more gamified, and more privatised to incentivise us. Companies do it to great effect, but what if cities became more like “city states” of yester-millenium and it gets to the point where (with some kind of city wall) you can control your citizens a-la-china but only in positive reinforcement ways. I’d love to reward all the guys who collect random bits of metal and other recyclables and take them for miles in trolleys around our city. Couldn’t we grant them legal trolleys, warm showers, changes of clothes, food vouchers, and other things for their efforts? Rather than just handouts to folk who are not motivated to change or work at all. Anyway, politics and policy, not something I know anything about…

But back to loyalty, as promised, Kauai is great, and so is coffee, and I certainly am incentivised to walk to work to get my “free” (read, very affordable) daily two coffees at Kauai rather than work from home. Nothing like a little caffeine to get me going, and I am sure there are similar “drugs” like sugar, warm showers, and much else that could change citizens or consumers’ behaviour. I for one have a secret love for airports, and especially the ones that treat you really well. Seoul and Singapore Airports being the two that stand out. Both had showers, and the latter a rooftop pool! When I book my next flight to the far east, or Australia, I really consider that tiny thing – those 4-5 hours on your layover – and would easily spend another R1,500 or so to enjoy that over a dismal 4-hour wait in Dubai/Qatar/Something (assuming that it’s not as great – it’s been a while).

So what should a brand do if they want to get into loyalty? What would I do if I was in control of SAA Airways? I’d go above and beyond for my customers and think of 100 things to make passengers’ lives easier and in as many free ways as possible. Sometimes it’s just the feeling of being included (ie. exclusive club), other times it is that “we care” and remembering something from a previous trip, other times it is the forethought ‘oh, they are flying to Bali – let’s tell them the weather there, and five things they should do on arrival, and 10 admin tips, like changing money, cabs, culture etc’.

Often it is really painless to do so, and incredibly rewarding for both the Marketing director, and all customers.

Part Two: The Coffee Loyalty Saga Continues

So the one month loyalty at Kauai expired – it seemed like they shut it down entirely, I’m sure it couldn’t have been profitable, at all – and so the next step was to test out another coffee shop, and its loyalty scheme.

Enter, Seattle Coffee Company. I’ve always been a huge fan of their large, blue, warm mugs and sitting in Exclusive Books on a rainy weekend morning is as appealing an activity as any. So, they were next on the list. As their coffees weren’t R2.50 a cup, but far on the other end of the spectrum at ~R34 this was always going to be a quicker exercise. The way their system works is you order a coffee, and they ask “are you a loyalty member?”, and if so, you enter your phone number. There is zero way of seeing if you are putting it in correctly, and you just have to trust that you do and that they will see an error if you put it in wrong. There is I guess a small chance that they kind of know you, and when you do pay, the till slip will tell you the progress in your loyalty journey. Note: the slip is so, so long. What a waste of paper! Nine coffees later and your tenth one is free, so about R300 in, I got a R40 coffee for “free” – not much of a deal in my mind, and the system wasn’t very appealing, especially in covid times with having to touch the same keypad as 500 other people that day, though, I am super glad I didn’t have a sticker system on a card, those are the worst.

Next up was Bootleggers. I asked if they had a loyalty scheme and they did. “Download the app and your tenth coffee is on us” – meh, what a mission, a whole app download to save R31 every few weeks. But, in the name of research, I did it. Their app was way better than I thought it could be – and it’s super handy to choose between “paying with loyalty” vs “pay normally, but get loyalty”. Their coffee is great, the app is a pleasure, and I enjoy seeing the visualisation of how far I have progressed to my tenth cup. I did find it gamified it for me to the point where I really want to go and get all the other coffees to make my way to it. Clever marketers, and behavioural economists, tricking us all. I do find myself thinking: “Just make your coffees 5-10% cheaper” it will make everyone’s lives far easier.

Last on the agenda: Rosetta Roastery. Known for years (since Michelle Obama chose to buy her coffee there on her state visit) as the premium Cape Town coffee, I knew I was in for two things: exceptional, and unique tasting coffee, and… paying through my nose! It was expensive, but as it’s a one-time purchase (Bree St. being way too far from home) it was worth going ‘whole hog’ and getting their cheesecake, too. Their loyalty system I have no clue about as I wanted to demo the new app, Yoyo Go. Rosetta was (and is) an early adopter of this new way of doing things, where this app is their loyalty app, instead of having their own custom built one like Kauai and Bootleggers. I am a huge fan. Instead of all these a) paper loyalty cards b) loyalty apps c) physical loyalty cards (like Smart shopper etc) or d) random systems like Seattle – you now have a “one ring to rule them all” type app that stores your card details so every time you swipe (or tap, #2021) you earn loyalty. No more keeping 20 cards, and updating every app on the app store. Am keen to see this space grow…

Which brings me to a conclusion of sorts – maybe we just pretend like it’s 1990 again and a business should just “wow!” their customers. Remember their names, know their preferences, offer a great price, ensure your coffee tastes nicer than the rest, give good seating, with warm, soft lighting, have quiet spots in your coffee shop, limit wifi to 30min so that most tables aren’t taken up by those one-flat-white-and-sit-for-four-hours consumers who ruin the whole experience for others, and be clever with your coffee+food pricing, enticing folks to upgrade their orders.

My favourite coffee of the lot? 

Price: Kauai

Taste: Seattle

Experience: Seattle

Customer service: Seattle

Loyalty: Kauai 

Overall: Kauai because of the price.