Payments

Engage People’s Len Covello on Priceline’s pay with points program

  • There are billions of dollars available to retailers if they can tap into loyalty points.
  • Engage People, a tech company in the space, is seeing more interest in paying with points.
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Engage People’s Len Covello on Priceline’s pay with points program

Today’s guest on the show is Len Covello, co-founder and CTO of Engage People. which provides loyalty rewards program technology. Len talks about his firm’s recent work of putting Priceline’s entire inventory online to be purchased using rewards points. We discuss the program, the genesis of the relationship with Priceline, as well as the opportunity retailers have to tap into the billions of dollars stored in loyalty points and the trend to enable these types of transactions.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Working with loyalty points redemption

Engage People is a global technology provider focused on the loyalty space. We bring loyalty solutions and try to disrupt that environment with different types of redemption options. We play more on the technology side. Our focus the past few years has been around redemption. We’ve taken loyalty currency and moved it to a currency on redemption, and brought that across different verticals.

We also offer platform solutions, so we’re the underlying technology for a number of financial institutions and how they run their loyalty programs today.

We’ve been in the space for a number of years. The inception of the company was traditional redemption, like catalog redemption and gift card redemption. We definitely have seen the shift to ecommerce and the practicality of using these services. We started working with a few partners.

Priceline’s pay with points program

One of the major announcements we just made was with Priceline. When a customer is redeeming today, there’s generally a step in between the end good they’re looking for — whether it’s travel, merchandise, gift cards — and the loyalty program itself. Creating a relationship directly with the aggregator, the vendor — in this case, Priceline — was something we were keen on doing.

We met with the Priceline team and shared with them the economics around loyalty, the billions of dollars that are available that they didn’t have access to. They were excited about that. We brought to market all of Priceline’s inventory, including Priceline, Booking.com, and Hotels.com. We brought all that forward to the loyalty space. We’re launching shortly with some customers across North America. You’ll be able to redeem your loyalty currency directly on Priceline’s inventory.

The challenges

We started with the chicken and the egg problem. We met with retailers years ago and they didn’t quite understand the untapped value in loyalty currency that was unavailable to them. It started with education. Next, we got to the business people who were looking to get access to this new source of revenue.

The next step was around the technology piece — the most prized possession on any ecommerce site is the checkout page. You’re really trying to curb any opportunity for abandonment. We wanted to make sure we built a solution that was highly scalable and easy to implement. Once we brought that to market, you’re seeing a lot of this come to fruition with ecommerce sites looking to jump onboard.

The customer experience converting loyalty

The first difference that a loyalty customer would see is that in a typical program, you log in to your loyalty program to see your points and what’s available to redeem. Then you’ll see a catalog. In programs that offer travel, you’ll usually see a subset of travel options. That experience isn’t optimized — it’s usually two or three versions behind what’s out there as best in class.

The difference here is that we bring a user onboard. Instead of shopping for travel within the catalog, a user is met with a Priceline logo and told essentially to go shop for travel on Priceline’s website. There’s a lot of faith in existing ecommerce brands, so we see a tremendous lift in redemption in programs like this. The inventory is identical to what’s on Priceline.com.

The results for things like flights are denominated in dollars and points. We do that currency conversion on the fly for a member. They book as they usually would. When it’s time to check out, a member is given the opportunity to pay for some or all of their transaction with loyalty points.

Level of tech integration

We did a lot of heavy lifting on our side. We built this as a platform with scalability in mind. It couldn’t be a one-off. We built out a playbook with a set of APIs that are really straightforward. If you wanted to compare it to anything, it’s like integrating merchant services. So, when you check out on an ecommerce site and use a credit card, it’s similar to that. Probably a little lighter to be honest.

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