Card-Linked Offers 101: All of Your Questions, Answered

Have you heard about the magic of card-linked offers but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’ve seen a Medium or Forbes article on the topic and have some questions that need to be answered to help you decide if it’s right for your brand?

You’re not alone – we’ve heard from marketers who want to quickly find answers to their top questions about card-linked offers (CLOs), and we listened. We’ve developed a list of common questions, and provided detailed answers to help you understand the value and lift that a smart CLO program can bring. Let’s get started.

What Is a Card-Linked Offer?

Who Uses Card-Linked Offers?

How Does It Reach People?

How Well Do Card-Linked Offers Perform?

How Do I Set Up a Card-Linked Campaign? Who Is Involved?

How Much Does It Cost to Run a Card-Linked Offer Campaign?

What’s the Difference Between a Card-Linked Offer Program and Other CPC Campaigns?

Will My Customers’ Information Be Secure?

What Kind of Reporting Is Provided During Each Campaign?

Where Will My Card-Linked Offer Campaign Show Up?

What Is a Card-Linked Offer?

Card-linked offers are a digital marketing tool designed to bridge the gap between online marketing and in-store sales. They create a connection that can help marketers understand what customers have seen in an online card linked offer ad, and when that spurs them to buy in-store.

Card-linked offers are an incredible way to increase in-store visits and total sales.

Today, a wide range of top-performing websites and apps promote card-linked offers to boost their revenue, and increase retention with their users.

National advertisers have turned to this digital tool because it improves marketing efficiencies and can easily replace more confusing and cumbersome strategies involving QR codes or print-out coupons.

The system works by showing a consumer a targeted offer online — typically this is for a certain percentage of cash back on an in-store purchase. The consumer clicks through to an app or account sign-up form. They then link the credit card they plan to use in-store to that account. After they go into the store and use the card for a purchase, they receive the cash-back.

Quickly and easily set up your CLO program in two weeks with this free  checklist »

Who Uses Card-Linked Offers?

This technology works wonders for nearly any business with physical retail locations because CLO is the first technology that can bridge the gap between online ads and in-store revenue. That said, a few industries do tend to use them more and are better poised to reap greater ROI with this advertising technique.

According to the Cardlinx Association: restaurants, grocery stores, and department stores are the current leaders in online-to-offline marketing [Card Linked Offers] adoption at 30%, 19%, and 17%, respectively.

It notes that these merchant categories benefit the most from online-to-offline promotions like card-linking because they have a high purchase frequency, and they typically require offline fulfillment through a physical store.

In its most recent study, Cardlinx notes that travel merchants are a fast-rising group, driven by both hotels and airlines. These companies are seeing an increasing proportion of their revenues derived from ancillary services like baggage fees, room services and cross promotions for non-competitive merchants. These ancillary services are well suited to new online-to-offline marketing channels like CLO that are more data-driven than traditional marketing channels.

How Does It Reach People?

Card-linked offers reach consumers on their favorite websites and apps like Yelp, Uber, and Groupon. They simply click to claim their cash-back reward and link a debit or credit card. CLOs often are capable of yielding higher efficiency and success levels than traditional media, which typically focus on driving consumers to a national brands website and then try to get them to convert with no way of connecting the final dots to in-store purchases.

Think of CLOs as the digital improvement to clipping coupons, and they’ve already proven people like them. In a recent survey, 51% of the people said that card-linking programs would definitely be a catalyst for bringing or getting them back into shopping centers.

Feel free to use our CLO checklist to walk through all of the steps from setting campaign goals to building out and running the campaign.

How Well Do Card-Linked Offers Perform?

card linked offers

Proving a traditional return on ad spend (ROAS) can be difficult for digital marketers at brands with physical stores, because you can’t track an online ad to an in-store purchase. However, card-linked offers provide a clear pathway to understanding your return on the investment — and the success of the online advertising.

One major benefit of CLOs is that you only pay once someone buys something in-store. The user who saw your CLO ad must link their card and then actually make a purchase. Only then will you pay a fee.

What’s great is that, you’re only paying for successful online-to-offline conversions. It’s a true performance-based program, for brands with physical stores.

From a consumer standpoint, CLOs are convenient because there’s less friction on the path to redemption. Consumers love the program because it’s a seamless user experience. They link a card, and then go to the location to get cash back. They don’t have to print out a coupon and remember to bring it next time they go to a location.

Here are some important stats on CLOs from a recent Cardlinx survey:

  • 72% of brands that use CLOs said that transaction volume for their card-linking programs increased more than 50% over the past year. (62% saw transactions increase by more than 100%)
  • Card-linking is one of the most broadly used opt-in marketing channels
  • CLOs are GDPR-compliant and expected to become more common for customers who view them as safe ways to get rewards

Customers who redeem CLOs often show an increase in engagement and spending at the same merchant after they redeem an initial offer.

How Do I Set Up a Card-Linked Campaign? Who Is Involved?

Set Your Goals: CLO campaigns are relatively straightforward to start. Let’s look broadly at the process.

First, the brand will want to define campaign goals. Some of the more common options include:

  • Drive $X in revenue
  • Increase in-store traffic by X amount
  • Increase in-store purchase frequency by X%
  • Increase average order value
  • Increase ROAS compared to other advertising

Determine your Cash Back: After goals are set, the brand will want to work out the offer it can reasonably afford in order to drive those gains. Is it 5% cash back, 7% cash back, 10% cash back? Marketing, sales and other stakeholders will likely need to be included in this conversation.

If your brand and marketing department hasn’t gone through this process before, Empyr recommends leaning on one of our consultants to help you determine the appropriate cash back incentive that your brand should offer to ensure a successful campaign. Empyr will bring recommendations for the level of cashback that will drive conversions.

Choose your program partner: You can choose an individual program provider, like Yelp. Or you can choose a Card Linked Offer Network like Empyr, that offers dozens of programs under one roof.

Timeframe and Budget: As a National Brand Marketer, you should set a timeframe and budget as you would do with your other digital ad campaigns, and specifically select the stores that this program will support.

The advertising and marketing support partner, like Empyr, will give you a main point of contact during the CLO program. At Empyr, this is your “Customer Success Manager”. They will help to review and refine all aspects of your campaign.

Ready, Set, Go: For details on the campaign set up, technical set up, and content set up, Empyr has created a handy checklist. Download this free checklist to understand who should be brought in, what details you might need, and some smart questions to consider.

How Much Does It Cost to Run a Card-Linked Offer Campaign?

Now to the great news: a CLO campaign never costs more than the revenue you make from it!

There’s no catch. Empyr utilizes a model in which the brand only pays when someone transacts in store.Clicks and impressions are free; and the brand only pays a small amount when the customer makes a purchase with their linked card. It’s called Cost Per Revenue (CPRTM) and you can read more about it here ».

So, how does Empyr ensure that the CLO program doesn’t cost more than the revenue generated?

We apply a special formula based on audience reached average order value, and conversion rates at each retail location to determine how much in-store revenue CLOs can drive. The cash back offers are completely adjustable based on these factors. The number of store locations also plays a vital role in creating a proven formula to protect your revenue. Think about it this way, the higher the cash back reward, the more likely the offer is to drive new customers in store.

What’s the Difference Between a Card-Linked Offer Program and Other CPC Campaigns?

CPC campaigns are great for ecommerce businesses that can easily connect online ads to online sales. They even work for brick-and-mortar businesses that want to drive awareness without having a clear link to whether or not those campaigns drive actual sales in-store.

On the other hand, card-linked offers are a smart addition to your marketing toolkit because they allow you to connect the dots from an online ad all the way to purchases in your stores - with a direct understanding of the sales they generate, called attribution. In-store transaction data and revenue are collected and reviewed as part of the CLO program, which other CPC campaigns cannot accomplish.

Traditional CPC has an often-indirect attribution model, so marketers are not 100% able to tell what drove revenue and final purchase decisions.

CLOs address much of that thanks to the specific connection of the card-linked purchase to the major credit cards, the publisher, and the brand.

Other benefits and differences of card-linked offers include:

  • Card-linked offer programs offer guaranteed ROAS
  • CLO campaigns have clicks and impressions included in their efforts but are “free” because you’re only charged when a transaction occurs
  • They’re one of the only programs to offer 100% attribution

Again, the main difference between card-linked offers and other CPC marketing is that CLOs are meant to drive in-store revenue. They push people to buy from the brand you represent, at X location(s); where they have more time to browse and can create an established habit of visiting and purchasing.

Will My Customers’ Information Be Secure?

When working with a program provider like Empyr, who has Level 1 PCI Compliance — a level for processing more than 6 million card transactions per year — and works directly with the major credit card associations, we can ensure that customer information is secure and that all programs follow all privacy laws.

Final security comes from the partner you choose. We suggest looking for 256-bit encryption and a partner who has relationships with the major credit card brands (that will give you the same encryption that is used by banks).

We’re not integrating to any of your systems, so there’s no risk to your data. Credit cards are linked to the platform, and we do track the physical locations where the user shops via transaction data, but we are not collecting a user’s personally identifiable information (PII).

What Kind of Reporting Is Provided During Each Campaign?

At its heart, reporting provides a variety of data points around the CLO campaign, redemptions, plus information on the success of marketing activities regarding dollars, not clicks, like conversions, and ROAS.

As the campaign’s running, the brand will receive access to a real time dashboard showing traditional impressions, store visits, revenue and budget being consumed.. You’ll also get a detailed view of how many people spent through the program and how their average order value compared to the AOV pre-campaign.

CLO’s also provide the ability to do incremental revenue lift reporting to demonstrate the success of the campaign and it’s ability to drive true incremental revenue. This is accomplished by doing a test and control analysis or cohort analysis.

We focus on lift as a “sum of all parts”, across multiple avenues in our reports:

  • Increased spend from all customer segments
  • Increased average order value
  • Increase in purchase frequency

In real-time, you’ll get access to reports and dashboards that cover overall revenue, number of impressions, number of store visits, number of transactions, transactions by period, campaign period, budget consumption and more.


Where Will My Card-Linked Offer Campaign Show Up?

This depends on the CLO network that you choose to run your ad. Each network has different sites, apps, and capabilities based on their relationships. Empyr, which offers the largest CLO network available today, gives you access to dozens of top consumer sites including Yelp, RetailMeNot and others, covering more than 315 million consumers.

Before you make your campaign decisions, we always recommend that you evaluate different networks based on their scale, the quality of users on the platform, and the online activities of your target markets and demographic groups.

Visually, How Will the Card-Linked Offer Appear for My Consumers?

The CLO advertisement will appear in a variety of formats, shapes, sizes and other configurations based on the publisher and the locations where it appears. Some websites offer static placement where your brand logo and the offer will be placed in a specific location on a page and is visible as long as the user can see that section of the website.

Other ad units that might animate or adjust over time will provide each viewer with ample time to see, read and understand your offer. The final numbers depend on your mix of ads, but could look similar to these below:

cash back via yelp

Get Ready, Get Set, Go

Those are the basics of a card-linked offer program. If you’ve got further questions or are ready to start, we suggest you grab a copy of our free CLO checklist. It’ll help you prepare for your first CLO campaign and know what questions to ask when you’re reviewing ad networks to assist you.

Good luck!

Posted in: Insider, O2O

New call-to-action