We noticed the inviting “Buzz Point” sign at a downtown Madison retailer while Christmas shopping last December, and made a note to find out more about this program. We discovered that in our community, Buzz Points is offered by locally owned Park Bank. It serves as a way for the bank to promote the use of its debit/credit card while encouraging the “buy local” mentality.  As the Buzz Points blog says, this is where “bank local” and “buy local” intersect.

Buzz Points are earned whenever the card is used, however purchases at locally owned businesses garner four times as many points as dollars spent in national chains. The points can be redeemed for rewards such as gift cards at participating local businesses — they may also be donated to charity. Stores are reimbursed fully for any rewards spent at their business.

The card-issuing banks, credit unions and other financial institutions promote participating businesses to their card holders. In addition to points, card holders can receive exclusive offers and rewards at nearby Preferred Local Businesses. There is a smartphone app (of course!) that makes it easy for consumers to find businesses that are participating, and also to see special offers.

Buzz Points, which has “The Buzz on Main Street” as its slogan, is a national program that partners with community banks and credit unions  to encourage consumers to buy — and bank — locally. This third-party debit rewards program with a cause (and social media twist) was launched in 2009 in Austin, Texas. “Consumer spending increased $350 to $1,100 a month on cards linked with Buzz Points once they registered,” reports Buzz Points Chief Executive Jay Valanju in an online article in WSJ.D.

In a solicitation to our store, the local bank offering Buzz Points explained the advantage of being a Preferred Local Business, which included having purchases at our shop rewarded at the higher “local” level, and being able to redeem awards for card holders. There are different levels of business participation, with one costing a $49 monthly fee, however with no setup or cancellation fees.

Buzz Points is still expanding — at the end of last year they were in 32 markets and 24 states.  As Loyalty 360.org points out, the program is unique in that it matches consumers from a financial Institution to local businesses, providing a next-generation platform that is mutually beneficial. Its unique approach drives non-interest income for the financial institution and allows merchants to compete against big box retailers in ways that were previously impossible. It may be well worth considering for your store, or your community, as part of the “buy local” movement that is essential to the survival of independent businesses.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder 

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