Over the years, a world full of supermarkets and shopping malls has desensitized our relationship with the environment and each other. We no longer know where our food or clothes come from, and the cashier will only make eye contact to take our payment.

By contrast, when shopping online, it seems that almost every website knows all of our preferences in a personalized experience. FiveStars is a loyalty and shopping analytics platform for small brick-and-mortar retailers that aims to restore the balance.

FiveStars has logged more than 35 million visits from 10 million consumers who have used the loyalty app through over 10,000 merchants. But there is much more to this innovative solution than automated coupon delivery and rewards.

After picking up another $50 million in the third round of funding, the startup has now raised over $100 million. FiveStars' mission is to use technology to bring people together and turn every retail transaction into a meaningful relationship.

FiveStars co-founder and CEO Vic Ho was keen to avoid the predicted "Minority Report" future. Rather than having hundreds of adverts bombarding your eyes, his plan was to use technology to re-introduce the deep human relational element from the TV show Cheers.

Somewhere along the line, we lost our way. As unique individuals, we want people to know our names and smile warmly as we enter a store like the good old days. The technology that is often accused of dividing us is actually bringing everyone back together.

As personalization trends continue, Vic set his sights on delivering Fortune 500 tech to small businesses for the right reasons. It was the social impact of creating a loyalty program that would help small businesses and people in the communities that interested him.

The harsh reality for businesses is that it is more expensive to find new customers than to retain their existing ones. This realization has started a movement towards digital loyalty programs. The combination of technology and personalization to transform the customer experience is providing value on multiple levels.

Focusing on customer retention rather than acquisition is a trend that retailers can no longer ignore. The rise of sophisticated technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data mining also needs to be taken seriously.

Organizations of all shapes and sizes that fail to invest in analyzing their own data to improve the customer experience are already getting left behind. Our expectations have dramatically increased; we now expect businesses to know who we are along with our personal preferences. 

The personalization of everything is already here. Whether we are choosing something to watch on Netflix or logging into our Amazon account, businesses need to get on board sooner rather than later.

A blanket offer that is only relevant to 30% of its recipients is likely to do more harm than good.  Analyzing consumer behavior through services such as FiveStars can make your messages more relevant while also boosting engagement and revenues.

Ever since I first signed up to Amazon many years ago, I have been greeted with "Hello, Neil." When chatting to Vic, he quickly pointed out "Just imagine if Amazon didn't know who you were." This point instantly reveals that our problem is not with technology, but with people.

The growing number of loyalty and personalization tools can be invaluable to businesses. However, having someone stood behind a counter that is genuinely pleased to see you is a challenge for another day.

Check out my podcast interview with FiveStars co-founder and CEO Vic Ho. We talk about how technology and innovation work best when bringing people together. Just like the TV show Cheers, Vic points out that sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. 

Published on: Jul 1, 2016