The Future of Retail and Rewards Programs: Interview with Steve Deckert and Matt Collins (Part Two)

Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Deckert, a Co-Founder and Head of Business Development at, a rewards and recognition program provider and implementer. He was joined by Gorilla’s Creative Director, Matt Collins, who has extensive experience advising clients about loyalty programs and implementation best practices. We discussed trends, key drivers and predictions about the future of the rewards program landscape.

The following is Part Two of a two-part series and contains excerpts taken from our wide-ranging discussion, with a particular focus on future-looking trends and opportunities in the space. For more, read Part One here.

What do you see happening in the loyalty and rewards space in 2018 and beyond?

Steve Deckert (SD): I see us coming back to the roots of the original loyalty program, which was invented to collect better data on customers. In the pre-digital age, the programs were an incentive for customers to identify themselves, usually in offline transactions. So I would have reason to identify myself with a loyalty card or a customer ID, and I would have incentive to do that because I would be rewarded.

data on customers

We’ve come full circle and we now have a number of ways to identify customers. We also have a lot more touchpoints to engage with customers. It’s not always easy for us to know the entire customer journey. As big data and machine learning become more prevalent, often the best retailers are the ones who have the best data sets. We can apply predictive modeling and machine learning to our data, and we will be able to gather way more insights about our customers. We don’t even necessarily need to be the best at X because we can apply this machine learning and it will give us better insight than any human ever could.

I’ve been returning to that core mantra that loyalty and reward programs are a good way to collect better data, especially if machine learning becomes more accessible through software services and SaaS. As big computing power becomes more accessible to the common retailer, I see us returning back to these rewards programs as a way to collect better data.

The second thing I see is a trend of experiences becoming way more important than products. Almost anyone can set up a shop online, easily and for a low cost, with amazing functionality and tools that were groundbreaking 10 years ago. Those new retailers can get products without really being a manufacturer a lot more easily than anytime in history. The ease of entry into the retail market means there’s much more competition for the attention of consumers, so I see experiences becoming a way to differentiate, instead of products or individual campaigns. The retailers who can create the best experiences for consumers will be the ones that you’re more likely to use.

sephora event

Matt Collins (MC): I agree, I think that consumers have more power than ever and they’re not afraid to tell brands how they want to engage with them. Right now, the hot demographic is millennials, and everyone wants to target that group. As that particular generation gains even more purchasing power, you’ll see an increased demand for personalization and customization. Experiences and products will become more personalized. The rewards that will go along with that trend will be the VIP experiences and even the ability to co-create products or materials with brands. You can see that happening now with brands like Lulu and Nike, but I think as consumers demand more customization ability, you’ll see more brands start to open up that maker/influencer-type relationship to more than just the VIPs.

(SD): Exactly, I definitely agree. We’re seeing so much with influencer marketing, and have seen it really expand over the past few years into retailing. Those influencers are not only going to influence the marketing of products, but also the actual products themselves as they’re developed by these retailers.

Any final thoughts?

SD: I think brick and mortar still has a lot of disruption ahead. There’s been a lot of adoption of new technologies online mostly, but not so much in traditional brick and mortar, particularly with those larger retailers. A lot of what we focus on and talk about seems really futuristic and amazing, but it’s very skewed online. There are almost two different types of innovation that are going to happen. There will be the tip of the spear stuff that will be predominantly online, but you’re going to see a way larger gap in the brick and mortar innovations, because I think that channel is ready to be disrupted.

We’ve already seen retailers like Toys-R-Us claiming bankruptcy, and now they’re moving towards and really investing in new in-store experiences, like augmented reality. Brick and mortar needs to redefine itself because customers can just easily purchase online or from a mobile device wherever they are. I can purchase off an Instagram ad now, and I’m on Instagram more often than I’m in a brick and mortar retailer. I think that the core of brick and mortar redefining itself will be focusing on what it can offer that customers can’t get online – which is an in-person experience.

shoppers on phones

MC: I think you’ll see the technology converge as well, similar to how Amazon bought Whole Foods, for example. You’ll see more technology in those brick and mortar shops, you’ll see it converge, and then you’ll see it tie back in. In the same way the customer can move seamlessly between the physical and digital experiences, their experience with the brand should move seamlessly as well. So they’ll be able to walk into a retail outlet and touch something, and have an experience with the physical object, augmented by digital, and then they’ll go back to mobile or the web after that and be able to have a more personalized, premium or upgraded experience based on the fact that they were in the physical space. I think you’ll see those in-store and online experiences become really tightly coupled.

SD: Exactly. And I’m excited for that. I’m excited to see the hardware and software that is going to come out to enable these experiences. For instance, a retailer looking into personalization in-store will be considering ways to identify a customer in store before they even identify themselves, and then change their experience on the spot in store. Just thinking about how you can logistically accomplish that is really exciting. There’s going to be some really cool technology that comes out to solve those hard problems.