A one-year old Brookline, MA startup designed to help small businesses send customers to each other raised $3 million in seed funding in 2016. And although Nift (www.gonift.com) is still in beta mode and focused on 500 Boston-area brick and mortar, service and local online stores, the hope is that the model will expand nationally.

The concept is intriguing. A business that is invited to join is sent complimentary Nift cards to give to its best customers to thank them for shopping local.  Card recipients go online to activate the card using the gift code on the back.   At that time the program asks for some basic information, followed by a second set of questions ask about preferences, i.e. wine or movies. 

Based on this data, the recipient is offered a choice of two specific gift certificates.  The one chosen is sent as a mobile offer valid for 45 days. After it is redeemed, the recipient is encouraged to give the donor feedback on his/her experience on social media. According to Nift, 70% of the recipients spend more than the value of their gift certificate (an average of $20, in fact), and 88% become repeat customers.

Merchants provide the full amount for the goods and services they sell through the program — these offers are not discounts or coupons, and the average cost is $30.  Businesses can choose how many referrals they want Nift to send to them, and they are given that same number of gift cards to give out. Ideally, for each card given away, another one comes back. In other words, for each happy customer given a gift, a new customer walks through the door.

As I mentioned, the program is currently in beta mode and is therefore free to participating businesses (aside from the cost of redeeming the offers).  In the future, however, company’s founder and chief executive Elery Pfeffer says that a small charge for each referral may be added.

A unique aspect of Nift is the fact that the cards are given as a thank you by one independent business, and used to encourage customers to try another.  This spirit of local cooperation makes one hopeful for the future of retail.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder