According to one brick-and-mortar business owner, ecommerce startups are tough to compete with. Driven by young visionaries, these startups aim to disrupt the status quo, often with little regard for shopkeepers who lack the technological know-how to keep up.
Allison Baker understands the plight of these shopkeepers — and the skepticism she encounters as she works to help them stay competitive. As Senior Director of Account Management at retail technology company Upside, Baker works directly with small business owners to leverage the sophistication of online retail – profit measurement, attribution and incrementality – to entice shoppers with cash-back incentives, merchants with proven profits, and both with the benefit of protecting our planet.
“I was with a client in Tennessee who runs a gas station, and she insisted that she knew all the clients who came to that one rural location,” Baker recently recalled. “She said, ‘They’re loyal, and once they’ve been here, they’ve been here multiple times.’ She saw no value in using digital tools to generate new business.”
But the information gathered by Upside told a different story. “When we looked at the data, a significant percentage of the customers at this location were new or rare, and it was very insightful for them to allay those concerns,” Baker said. Suddenly, a service like Upside – delivering personalized promotions that drive traffic to participating retailers – became an invaluable tool for someone who may not have the resources or inclination to focus on digital marketing.
“While the data we give them sometimes seems very fundamental to running a business, it’s often information they never had access to,” Baker continued. “If we can aggregate this data in a way that positively impacts our retailers, everyone wins. The work we do makes our communities thrive.”
WHAT UPSIDE DOES
Upside is a two-way marketplace that both drives traffic for businesses and returns users cash for everyday purchases like gas, restaurant meals, and groceries. The company works with over 50,000 retailers and reaches approximately 30 million customers.
In this way, Upside not only levels the playing field for local businesses — it levels it high the playing field. Headquartered in Washington DC, the company has generated $300 million in cashback for users and $650 million in profit for merchants since its inception in 2016, while allocating 1 percent of its revenue to sustainability initiatives related to its operations.
“Our product has made a huge difference in people’s lives, especially considering the last few years,” said Senior Software Engineer Willie Miller. “Having these tangible examples of how our work is putting money in people’s pockets and bank accounts is really rewarding. Everything we work on goes into it: every tweak in the API, every tweak in the algorithm and everything else we improve all feeds improve for a better user experience.”
Built In caught up with Miller, Baker and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Joanna Kochaniak to learn how Upside is bringing personalization to brick-and-mortar retail and how the company is doing its part behind the scenes to transform everyday purchases into bigger changes.
How do you translate your corporate mission into concrete measures for both the company and individual teams?
Senior Director Account Management Allison Baker: In my team that manages accounts with our fuel dealers, we really preach that this is a win-win-win scenario for our consumers, dealers and communities. It’s really cool that what we do – and the impact we provide to our retailers – ties directly to consumers.
Senior Software Engineer Willie Miller: From our perspective on the consumer-facing technical side, I can see that this thing I’m working on is getting more users to engage with the platform, which means more users are going to participating retailers. The quality of the experience, whether we’re looking at it from pure metrics or from a user perspective, just drives the entire consumer side of the platform, and that drives the rest of this triangle of goodness up for us.
How useful is it to work on a product that has such a big impact on the people who use it?
Co-founder and CTO Joanna Kochaniak: It’s incredibly encouraging to be working on a product that has a proven track record of impacting both retailers and consumers. I love reading comments and hearing stories from customers about how we’ve helped their dollars go further or increase profits in their business. Knowing the impact we have on people, especially during tough economic times, helps our team work hard and ensure our customers’ needs always come first.
It’s incredibly encouraging to be working on a product that has a proven impact on both retailers and consumers.”
Miller: It means your work counts. When you’re a business working on something that helps someone directly, it means you matter to that person who needs the money they get back from gas purchases, groceries, or restaurants. It feels good because someone cares. It’s important to a lot of people, honestly. It doesn’t get much better.
What does it say about Upside that their business revolves around helping other companies succeed as well?
Kochaniak: There is a long line of discount products and apps that give away money to users who have already wanted to make a particular purchase. This model is not tailored to the customer and harms the dealer. Instead, Upside is a tool that ensures every transaction is measurably beneficial for both the customer and the merchant.
Baker: We think about that every day. As we conduct our monthly conversation with the entire organization, our leadership amplifies the impact we are making on the consumer side, on the retail side, and in the communities in which we operate.
IMPACT ON THE TOP
Upside contributes 1 percent of its sales to sustainability initiatives associated with each purchase. With its food and fuel footprint, the company has offset nearly 2 million tons of environmental carbon emissions and saved more than 300,000 pounds of food from going to waste. These numbers put Upside in league with some of the biggest good-doing companies; Upside offset more emissions in 2020 than Disney, Salesforce and Bank of America combined — equivalent to almost 20 percent of Tesla’s avoided carbon emissions in 2021.
What product has your team developed that is unique to Upside?
Miller: When I first joined the company a few years ago, users still had to upload a receipt to use our platform. Everything was based on uploading a receipt, which can be difficult in some places, especially restaurants. I was on the team that did the first round of paperless transactions at gas stations. That had a huge impact. Now, a user just has to give us a little more information in advance, and they don’t have to upload a receipt. Working on this project was really cool, and now it’s the default for our entire fuel product. It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the impact on the business.
Kochaniak: When Upside first launched we were processing 10-20 receipts a day and had to do it manually. As the number of receipts continued to increase – showing more consumers cared about our product – I remember thinking if we ever get to a place where we process 1,000 receipts a day, then we’ve got it.” made”. ” Today, we process over 100,000 receipts a month, and that’s not even counting transactions that are processed without receipts. Today, over 350,000 transactions are made on the Upside platform every day. It still feels surreal when I see these numbers and how we have grown compared to when we started the company.
What has been the response from retailers using your product?
Baker: Often merchants assume that we are sending them customers they would otherwise have received or who have already remained loyal to their websites. They assume these customers are now getting a discount and cannibalizing their margin by working with us. But when we dive into the specifics of who those customers are, often 80 to 90 percent of them are new or rare customers. When we show them the data, they say it’s hard to believe. I think that illustrates the value we offer: we send you customers who have never come to your store before or who are now buying more because of us.