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Incentives fuel local shopping movement

SOLANA BEACH — Brian Booth aims high and wants others to benefit from the success of his new business. The North County entrepreneur created a web-based system of rewarding customers who shop locally.
The idea of giving shoppers incentives in the form of donations to their favorite charity, discounts or cash isn’t new. Yet, these programs are often encumbered by points to track, enroll merchants that most consumers don’t use on a regular basis and are of little value to the customer in the end.
Booth’s company, BuxBack, is changing the perception of ineffective rewards programs
in part by making them more relevant to local merchants and customers.
Founder and CEO, Booth has enlisted municipalities to support the program as a means of enhancing local shopping efforts. “Solana Beach is the first municipal model we’re using,” Booth said. “It’s nice because we can localize it,” Booth said. “With Solana Beach the rewards program creates immediate economic benefits.”
Despite its small population, Solana Beach is a shopping hub. From grocers and retail outlets to boutiques and art galleries in the Cedros district, the city is ripe for opportunities to encourage more residents to shop local.
Last summer, the city of Solana Beach joined various local business groups including the chamber of commerce, American Assets, Cedros Design District and Highway 101 Village Walk Association to form a partnership aimed at encouraging residents to shop locally.
The “Shop Solana First” campaign is targeted at keeping coveted sales tax dollars in local coffers, while boosting the business economy. Booth hopes to capitalize on the success of the program to enroll residents in BuxBack, which would in turn increase loyalty to local merchants.
At a cost of approximately $25,000, the group surveyed residents and merchants, plastered banners around town and sent direct marketing materials to the city’s 13,000 residents.
Steve Didier, assistant to the city manager for Solana Beach, said that while there is no data available, anecdotal evidence shows the idea is catching on. “I believe there is a wide awareness of the program by both the merchants and consumers,” he said.
Sean MacLeod of South Cedros Associates said the effort is gaining momentum as more of the city’s 1,200 businesses actively participate in the program. While the notion makes practical sense, Didier said there are also unintended intangible consequences. “Shopping locally creates a sense of community,” he said. “It creates a stronger relationship between the businesses and residents where loyalty plays a big part.”
While the rewards program is rolling out slowly, Booth intends to have between 10 and 15 cities on board by 2011. “This really is a community cash back program,” Booth said. “It makes sense to have a rewards program that is based on where people already shop and encouraging it to be closer to home.”
Consumers even have the power to shape the program, according to Booth. “A customer can help build the merchant network by recommending a local businesses,” he said.
Merchants and members are not charged a signup fee like some other programs. “We want to make BuxBack as simple and user-friendly as possible,” Booth said. “I would love to get money back every time I went to the grocery store,” said Mavis Purcell,
a Solana Beach resident,
while shopping at Henry’s Marketplace. “But a lot of times, I don’t go to the places that offer so-called rewards.”
The company also partners with local schools and nonprofits to create a fundraising platform that allows the BuxBack shopper to donate a percentage to a specific organization.
“We want to allow the user to benefit themselves, the local merchants and possibly their favorite charity,” Booth said.
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