Sebastians Boosts Revenues 17% With Branded Mobile Loyalty App

As mobile payments cross into the mainstream, app developers are differentiating payment offerings by integrating value-added features such as loyalty, rewards and transaction data analysis. In addition, branded payment apps allow retailers to capture consumers’ attention in-store to enrich the customer experience and increase sales.

Sebastians, a five-location café chain in the greater Boston area, understands the appeal of value-added mobile payment features. What began as a search for a card-based loyalty program led to mobile loyalty, mobile payments then a branded loyalty app that has increased visit frequency, average sales and total revenue across locations.

The mobile initiative “far exceeded our expectations,” said Mike Conley, Director of Marketing for Sebastians, in an interview withRetail TouchPoints. “Not only do customers using the Sebastians app visit us 30% more often than customers who don’t use it, they also spend an average of 7% more per visit. As a result, we’ve seen a 17% increase in total revenues.”


Launched June 2013 to extend existing mobile solutions, the branded payment app from LevelUp appealed to Sebastians, said Conley, because it helped the chain connect with customers on a personal level: “The app stays true to the Sebastians brand, extends it in exciting new ways and helps improve our customer experience on a variety of levels. Most importantly, the app thanks our customers for their loyalty: The more often they come back, the more rewards they will unlock.”

For instance, customers paying through the branded loyalty app earn various statuses, such as “Sprout,” “Fresh,” “Fresher,” and “Fresh-a-licious.” Each status is tied to a specific reward. For example, the “Fresh” status unlocks the “Birthday Club” reward.

“We really value staying true to our brand, so having a loyalty program that looks and feels like Sebastians was appealing to us,” Conley reported. In addition, “with more and more businesses using existing mobile payment networks, the LevelUp platform gave us the chance to stick out from the crowd.”

To pay by phone, Sebastians customers simply download the free LevelUp app, link a payment card and scan the QR code on their phone at POS. Seconds later they receive a digital receipt confirming their payment. “The process is faster than cash or credit card transactions,” revealed Conley, “making it easier to move our target customer ― primarily the Boston business professional ― right through the line.” 

Knowing More About Customers

LevelUp provides an online dashboard that tracks transactions automatically, including single and average amounts, times of day, types of cards used and frequency. “By capturing this data, which required no extra steps in our workflow,” said Conley, “we know more about our customers than ever before. This enables us to make their experiences at Sebastians as tailored to their needs as possible.”

When Sebastians first launched the branded app, “we were overwhelmed by the amount of real-time data that appeared in the online dashboard, and didn’t quite know what to do with it,” Conley disclosed. “But we soon realized the power behind that data. For example, if a customer regularly buys lunch from Sebastians but never comes in for breakfast, we can use the app to offer the customer $2 off to try a breakfast. Afterwards, we can track whether the digital coupon actually was redeemed.”

Sebastians implemented the non-branded LevelUp mobile loyalty app in June 2011. The company quickly realized that mobile loyalty would be the perfect way to offer customers a convenience that would set them apart: “At that time, mobile loyalty was still in its infancy, so we jumped on the opportunity to be at the forefront of this trend,” reported Conley. “Most of our customers already are using their smartphones while waiting in line, so paying with their phones was a natural progression. Just one week after we started to accept LevelUp transactions and run loyalty campaigns through the app, we were astounded by the results: The money LevelUp generated at just one of our locations paid for the entire program.”

LevelUp offers merchants several methods for accepting payments seamlessly from the app platform, and also provides the hardware needed to accept transactions. Merchants, such as Sebastians, without a POS that supports the LevelUp platform receive a tablet and scanner for payment processing. This hardware connects to existing POS but does not replace it.

App Evolves In Response To Consumer Needs

The LevelUp roll-outs allowed Sebastians to build a completely branded payment app on the front end, with the full functionality of the LevelUp mobile payment and loyalty program infrastructure on the back end. The café chain also added other branded features to the app, such as a menu, blog, map of locations and more.

The LevelUp app will continue to evolve in response to consumers’ needs. “In the future, I think consumers will expect their phones to be capable of everything a desktop does today,” Conley noted, “As this shift happens, we’ll continue to add new features, such as online ordering. Eventually the app will provide everything available through our web site today, plus more.”

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