Wow, 2006 was a busy one in the rewards program biz. Not a lot of new programs last year, but we saw a lot of old ones fail… and a couple of big ones change ownership.
How well do you remember the big stories of last year? And will last year’s events foreshadow more of the same this year? Let’s recap 2006, The Year of Change. Click Continue Reading!
January: ParadePerks, Parade Magazine’s rewards program that started in 11/05, put up the Gold VIP Surveys that were required for members to begin to cash out their points. Their site promptly crashed. The cashout process never was officially fixed, and perhaps not surprisingly, in April the program shut down. In a classy move, they did allow members to receive some sort of prize for their points. In response to member demand, QuizPoints added Huge Rewards, a selection of redemptions for around $300. BzzAgent received $13.75 million in venture capital to improve their reporting architecture, hire staff, and increase market share. So far, so good: they started 2006 with around 225,000 BzzAgents, but by year-end, they had 450,000. MyPoints was found to be in violation of the terms of their affiliate network agreements; in February they apologized and blamed it on the adware firm with which they had contracted.
February: UrbanFreebies closed (it may have actually shut down in January). BonusTree was also found dead, but alas…no tears were shed. (They had a rep for many years as being bigtime spammers.) BountyZoo launched, paying members 100% of the commissions they earn for member purchases…but for a $35 fee. Borders bookstores (including Waldenbooks) started their own rewards program, Borders Rewards. By the end of the year, they had almost 14 million members.
March: The WinAtlanta rewards program was down briefly when the owners allowed their domain registration to lapse. They were back a few days later. Greenpoints lost one of its off-line grocery partners, Shop’n'Save, after it was purchased by SuperValu. ClubMom announced it would offer members points for Chrysler and Jeep purchases; previously they had only offered points for certain Dodge vehicles. Also in March was the big announcement that the Betty Crocker Points program would be discontinued. By the end of the year, they had printed their final catalog and discontinued online redemptions; they now offer a 10% discount at Cooking.com if you send in 100 points. At the end of March, CreationsRewards.net got a facelift with a new red, white, and blue theme and improved site layout. Also at the end of March, there was an arrest for click fraud at Freeride (involving automated clicks, way back in ’00 to ’02).
April: On April 1, the Upper Deck sports card company launched its Upper Deck Kids rewards program, allowing kids to enter card codes for points. It proved to be popular, with over 120,000 members by year’s end. QuizPoints introduced instantly crediting offers, but there weren’t many offers participating…and there are still only a handful (around 5) that do. SearchChips eliminated iTunes and Fandango as redemptions and began offering eCount Virtual Visas. One of the biggest stories of the year was in April, when MyPoints, with 4.5 million members, was sold to United Online, owner of Juno, Classmates.com, and NetZero, among other sites. Metareward, a rewards portal that formed the backbone of several online rewards programs, announced it was exiting the incentive business…which meant the demise of NetFlip. Greenpoints began doubling their rebates (from 10 to 20 points per dollar) as a limited time offer, but as of 1/07, this offer is still valid.
May: Finally, a relatively quiet month. The only “real” story of the month was that Ebates was sued in a Chicago court; the plaintiff claims their MoeMoneyMaker software was installed without permission and that this constitutes trespassing. Ebates responded that the lawsuit “miscasts” their company, saying the facts would show Ebates was playing fair.
June: Another of the biggest news stories of the year: On June 1, Upromise, with 7 million members, was sold to Sallie Mae. The sale was finalized in August. FusionCash.net temporarily lost its PayPal account; it was reinstated shortly thereafter. Toward the end of the month, the Jellyfish rewards program was launched, and Ebates started their own blog.
July: The summer’s usually pretty quiet in the rewards world, and 2006 was no exception. Greenpoints contracted with an emergency data backup service to ensure there would be no service disruptions during hurricane season (they’re located in Florida). BondRewards began sending out paid emails to their members (worth 2.5 cents each).
August: MyPoints debuted its very popular Back to School Backpack instant win game, which ran through mid-September.
September: BestBuy’s Reward Zone program was restructured to devalue points, but in return, they eliminated the membership fee. In late August/early September, Freeride raised its redemption costs and told members that in 7 days they would receive Virtual Visas instead of their long-outstanding requested redemptions. Members didn’t actually begin receiving them until early October. PointPool eliminated free daily points for site visits. SearchChips unveiled a new look.
October: MillersRewardShop closed; a smaller program, they had been around for at least 5 years. QuickRewards.net became the first program to get “Popular” status at BeenPaid.com. CompareRewards.com celebrated its 5th anniversary online. I released my third annual shopping rebate comparison, and found BondRewards to be the highest paying rebate program in 2006.
November: Jellyfish introduced its highly popular Smack Deal of the Day, and mid-workday productivity has suffered ever since. QuickRewards.net began converting user accounts to their new website, but as of 1/07 the new site hasn’t gone live yet. Visa Extras Rewards members found that they couldn’t access their balances online due to a system glitch; they’re still working on it. Jellyfish had a special all-day Smack on Black Friday, and on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, members enjoyed special rates at Ebates.
December: In the third big rewards program sale of the year, Greenpoints was sold to Pay By Touch. And, last but not least, BzzAgent announced it would eliminate rewards for many of its campaigns in ’07.
Wow. 2006 saw several sites shut down (UrbanFreebies, BonusTree, NetFlip, ParadePerks, MillersRewardShop), several big players get sold (MyPoints, Upromise, and Greenpoints), and a few more players enter the fray (Jellyfish, Upper Deck, Borders stores). The long-term trend I see is this: the smaller guys fade away, and the bigger players are shuffled around from one owner to another — rewards program membership bases are viewed as being a commodity, but it’s tricky to find someone with the know-how and the finances to properly run them, to structure and operate them as a win-win situation for both the owners and the program members.
Good luck to us all in 2007!