Online Card Receipts from American Express

Amex_print_options_boxDo you ever wonder why American Express, with fewer merchant outlets and higher prices, continues to command a 17% share of all U.S. debit and credit card volume (see note 1)?

Sure, the company’s powerful brand supported by vast and memorable advertising is a factor, but it’s also the product it delivers, optimized for business users and other big spenders. And the company never rests on its laurels. Even though I’m a light user, in 11 years of card ownership, I’ve received on average one card, letter, or email message every week, for a total of more than 500. The company does not let you forget about them.

Amex_printable_recieptAmerican Express also continually improves their product. For example, the latest innovation, announced in an email today (click on inset left), is a minor new twist in online delivery. Cardmembers can go online and easily print receipts, one page per transaction, to be used to match up with other paper records, invoices, expense-reimbursement requests, and the like.

Simple instructions in the email message explain how to use the new option, one of three choices in the Print Options box (see inset upper left) located in the upper-right corner of the main Summary of Accounts page, the default shown after login (click on screenshot below for a closeup of the Summary page).

Amex_print_options Will handy, printable receipts win American Express any awards? Hardly. It barely rates a bullet point in a brochure. But these little things all add up when cardmembers make the decision as to which piece of plastic to pull out of their wallet or purse. 

JB

Note:
1. Market share of all purchase volume on MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express credit and debit cards during first half of 2005 (Source: The Nilson Report, Aug. 2005, #840)

Cash and Cards Are Both Endangered Species

Right around the corner is a world with neither cash nor payment cards. Contactless payments mechanisms—built into cell phones or even jewelry—are helping create this world, and the result will help change banking, thinks Theodore Iacobuzio, managing director of Tower Group’s executive research office.

The reality is that companies that once fed the banks’  payment networks—merchants, for instance—will be future competitors. But banks shouldn’t panic about this, any more than when, not so long ago, the Internet was supposed to be extinguishing banks. And banks won’t be disappearing now, either, thinks Iacobuzio: the anxiety over banking’s future, so prevalent in boardrooms around the country, is overdone.

Continue reading “Cash and Cards Are Both Endangered Species”

Mobile Payments: Japan Leads the Pack

The potential of cellphone-based mobile payments to eventually squeeze banks out of their central role in payments can already be seen in East Asia, says Andrei Hagiu, a principal at Market Platform Dynamics, and by ignoring it, American banks have nothing to lose but their business.

Octopus_cardHong Kong’s Octopus prepaid debit card (see inset) is one example: Issued by Hong Kong’s subway system and several other transportation companies—with no bank involved—Octopus cards drive about $2.2 billion in annual payments volume.

Continue reading “Mobile Payments: Japan Leads the Pack”

Platinum Upgrade from American Express

Despite intense competition from MasterCard and Visa issuers, American Express has been able to maintain a substantial share of the high-end market for credit/charge cards. For the twenty years we’ve followed the company, its marketing has consistently conveyed an upscale image.

Amex_email_premium_serviceCase in point: The email we received today asking us to upgrade from our existing Gold Card to an American Express Platinum (click on inset for a closeup look).

The subject line said it all:

     Upgrade to a card with premium service

The benefits cited included:
* Complimentary airline ticket on any of the 18 participating airline partners
* Airport club access (Continental, Delta, Northwest Airlines)
* Hotels & resort special privileges
* Free Membership Rewards program
* By Invitation Only (privileged access and tickets to events that, in many cases, can’t be purchased through any other source)

Analysis
The American Express solicitation is heavily oriented towards travel and entertainment benefits which plays to the company’s strengths. A bank could do the same by concentrating more on the "premium service" aspect. For example:

  • Front-of-the-line service: Your service request, whether by email or phone, always goes to the front of the queue
  • Branch manager access: If you ever need to go direct to the top for any reason, just call (212) 555-1212 or email branchmanager@yourbank.com
  • Preferred access to product specialists: If you ever have an unusual problem, whether it be accessing your online banking account from your laptop, or how to fund your Roth IRA, we will connect you with a specialist with state-of-the-art knowledge in that area
  • Ft. Knox security: You need not worry about the safety and security of your bank accounts with our upgraded security and authentication algorithms

For more ideas, see "E-Service 2.0" (OBR 105/106).

Trendspotting: Capital One’s No Hassle Credit Card Accounts

Capone_nohassle_cardDavid Spade’s "no guy" has helped make Capital One’s No Hassle credit card customer service parody one of the most-recognized consumer advertising campaigns of the year. According to the company, the commercials have helped lift the Capital One’s name recognition to 98% (see note 1).

Along the same lines,Amex_clear_1
American Express is test marketing a no-fee automatic-rewards card called Clear. The card, which is available through its website (click on inset for closeup), features no fees (late, overlimit, annual) and an automatic rewards fulfillment, a $25 cash card every time you spend $2500 on the card. Cardmembers also receive a free credit report and credit score each year.

Finally, Citibank is about to jump on the back-to-basics movement with its no-late-fee Simplicity card expected to debut this week at an event in New York City (note 2). The card will come in three flavors: plain, cash-back, and rewards. The bank’s website does not contain information on the card yet, but there is a separate customer service number listed that features a "press 0" option to be immediately connected to a live service rep.

Analysis
Although many consumers put up with penalty fees, there is always a point where they just won’t take it anymore, especially if lower-cost options are readily available. That’s why Blockbuster, faced with increasing competition from NetFlix, eBay, and WalMart, took a significant revenue hit when it eliminated late fees in its core movie rental business.

Citibank and the others are looking to win back consumers that have migrated to debit cards and/or credit unions to avoid penalty fees and interest charges. The cards also appeal to those with a strong aversion to fees either because they’ve had problems in the past or because they simply cannot stomach bank fees of any type.

JB

Notes:
1. USA Today, 13 March 2005
2. Citi Simplicty was launched 14 October 2005
    – read the press release
    – see the website, www.citisimplicity.com

American Express Builds City Brands

Amex_inny_logoFinancial institutions have done amazing things with their websites since Bank of America launched the first major commercial banking site 11 years ago (Sept. 1994). However, other than single-market credit unions and community banks, there hasn’t been much attention paid to localizing the content to appeal to more narrow geographic segments, for example the customers in a single city or neighborhood.

Beginning a year ago, American Express began a campaign to bring specialized city-based cards to major metro areas. The cards are intended for the 25-to-35 year-old hip urbanites. The card design, marketing, and rewards all cater to the dining out, clubbing, and museum-going single scene.

The first card, IN:NYC <innyc.com> launched a year ago (30 Sep 2004) and was discussed in a front-page WSJ article today. The company won’t disclose any results, but did say that 90% of its customers have not previously owned an American Express card, an important statistic for a company worried about cannibalizing its other products.

The IN:NYC card has its own look, website, and rewards program focusing on unique beyond-the-velvet-rope experiences in local clubs and eateries. In an interesting viral marketing strategy, friends are able to pool points in order to qualify for bigger rewards, such as a VIP table in a hot club.

The key cardmember benefits include:

  • 0% Introductory APR for 6 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • No annual fee
  • Option to carry a balance
  • One INSIDE Rewards point for every dollar spent
  • INSIDE Double points on City Essentials

Amex_inchicago_websiteThe second city card was launched this month (19 Sep 2005) in Chicago. The IN:Chicago website is still a static billboard (see inset). Another card is in the works for Los Angeles, IN:LA, which is expected to launch later this year, although the company has yet to secure the rights to the website, inla.com.

Action Items
Many large banks alter their website content by state. However, the customization generally does not extend beyond minor pricing differences.   

To better compete with local institutions, banks should use their websites to deliver highly-customized geographic content. Event calendars, discounts, and other local event marketing could create better brand recognition and more word-of-mouth advertising opportunities. It would also give local branch staff more ownership of "their" website. Banks could use an easily remembered URL such as <ny.wamu.com> to house their local versions.

JB