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Oakland fever is running high these days with pro-Oakland artists and merchants and community groups all organizing holiday shopping campaigns to entice people who live here to spend their dollars here, too.
Now, a group of tech entrepreneurs has added "Explore Oakland" - a restaurant loyalty debit card, to the fray. The card gives 25 percent cash bonuses when used at any of 26 Oakland restaurants, provided the consumer selects those restaurants in advance and preloads the card with cash to use at them.
Omri Dahan, one of the creators of Explore Oakland, explained it is a promotional variant of the Marqeta Card - a loyalty card platform that fellow tech entrepreneur Jason Gardner and Dahan created two years ago and launched a business around. Marqeta is a multi-merchant loyalty card that consumers preload with money to use at their favorite merchants and get bonus rewards for doing so.
"We heard Mayor Quan asked Oaklanders to spend 25 percent of their dollars in Oakland," said Dahan, who is chief revenue officer at Marqeta. "So we went to the Chamber of Commerce and said we can help.”
Dahan said Marqeta offered its loyalty card software platform to set up an Oakland only loyalty program and decided to ask participating restaurants to give 25 percent bonuses for customers' first use. The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce agreed to endorse it.
Along with encouraging people to support the local economy, the card has an educational mission, too: it can be used to make a donation to Great Oakland Public Schools and have the donation matched by Marqeta and its restaurant partners. The nonprofit organization is a fundraising and advocacy group supporting quality and equity in Oakland public schools.
According to Jessica Stewart of GO!, everyone at the nonprofit was thrilled. "This is wonderful for us," she said, and for the city's children.
"Explore Oakland" joins "Oakland Grown" and "Plaid Friday" as retail promotions set up by Oakland organizations as incentives to get people to keep their retail spending local, especially during the holidays.
Oakland Grown promises users rewards for going to 37 Oakland retailers and service businesses, only four of which are eateries. It, too, offers a rewards card. Plaid Friday is a one-day promotion set up by the East Bay Arts Collective sell Oakland made crafts, art work and food today, the day after Thanksgiving, at special rates.
Mayor Quan, in mid-November, urged Oakland residents to shop in their home city rather than travel to suburban malls or buy gift cards from big chain retailers, saying the city needs the millions of dollars Oaklanders spend on retail. She was at a press conference with Oakland Grown sponsors.
Erin Kilmer Neel, one of the organizers of Oakland Grown, did not seem to think having two local rewards cards, the Oakland Grown card and the Explore Oakland card, would be a problem.
"The Oakland Grown Card was invented by the founder of Oakland Unwrapped! and the Oakland Indie Awards. It is a nonprofit and non-corporate gift and rewards card that can be used at a variety of Oakland indie businesses (bookstores, bike shops, restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.)" she said in an email when asked. Only four of the businesses are restaurants.
Explore Oakland and its 26 restaurant partners offer users four choices of how to use their card at the 26 participating Oakland restaurants. In what it calls "Taste of Oakland," a user preloads the card with $40 and gets an extra $10 to spend at the restaurant of his or her choice. Its second, "Dinner for Two" option, asks users to preload the card with $80 to get $20 extra to spend at the restaurant. The next tier, "Party of Four" costs $200 preloaded, but gives you another $50 to spend. And lastly, "Indulge Oakland" at a cost of $400 gives an extra $100 as the bonus.
Joseph Haraburda, president of the chamber, said it hits a sweet spot with consumers. >
The restaurant scene in Oakland has been growing tremendously. Marqeta Card is one way people can try out different restaurants and save some money," he said. It's one way along with other programs about Oakland that encourage people to shop locally and be rewarded like Oakland Grown."
Marqeta was founded in Oakland in 2010 by Gardner, also of Oakland, who asked Dahan and Eric Bachman, Marqeta's chief operating officer, to join him. All three live in Oakland. The business has since moved to Emeryville - Dahan said the month they had to renew their lease or move was the same month Occupy Oakland settled on the plaza below their office - but they said Oakland is still in their hearts and one day they'll move back.
Our decision to support Oakland is reflected in Explore Oakland," he said. Dahan added that the executive team's commitment to Oakland also represented in "decisions we make every day," from where they live to where they go out to dinner, to where they bring their families for afternoon outings. Explore Oakland helps people make that decision to support Oakland, he said.
Marqeta's regular loyalty card program allows people to win spendable bonuses at their favorite merchants when they load up their Marqeta card with money they intend to spend at those specific merchants. Gardner got the idea from being a regular user of Starbucks Coffee's loyalty card. He wondered, Dahan said, why all his favorite merchants didn't do what Starbucks did - and then he decided that he would do it for them. Asking Dahan to join him, they created the Marqeta prepaid loyalty card program for Bay Area retailers and consumers. It lets people chose retailers they want to frequent and get bonuses from them.
Marqeta developed software that consumers can use to load their cards with money from a computer; they also created a mobile app so the card can be reloaded from a smartphone.
Marqeta has signed up merchants all over the Bay Area - some 250 of them - that give Marqeta card users bonuses for using the card, typically bonuses of 5-10 percent, Dahan said.
Omri said it's a win for merchants because it builds repeat customers: Using the card gets consumers in the habit of going certain places. He said it's a win for consumers can they get to spend more money than they put forward.
"It adds up," he said, using the phrase that has become the Marqeta motto.
It's also, of course, a win for Marqeta which gets a fee from the merchants whenever a consumer uses their card.
Disclaimer: Marqeta is a sponsor of Oakland Local's 2012 holiday party and several other OL programs; Oakland Grown is a past advertiser and long-time partner. We're huge fans of shopping locally and innovative ways to promote local business. -SM