It’s not often that a sweet tooth leads to a nice smile—sugar has the opposite effect on one’s teeth—and, in fact, one Canadian tech company almost never got the chance to smile the way they do today.
The story starts in 2009 when Mike Rossi founded an e-commerce agency called Sweet Tooth. At first, Rossi and co. were building custom e-commerce websites for their clients, until Magento commoditized that kind of platform building. With more companies able to DIY their way to e-commerce success—or, at least, proficiency—Sweet Tooth pivoted to building custom extensions for Magento, as a way for their clients to put a more personal stamp (and increased features) on the cookie cutter storefronts that Magento made possible.
Out of this, a loyalty and rewards app was born, and their Magento-running customers were loving it as a highly effective retention tool. There was only one problem: Shopify was slowly gaining ground on Magento, WooCommerce was turning WordPress into a viable e-comm option, and Sweet Tooth started losing its steam. By late 2013, they had to take out a loan in order to pay their remaining staff and, by Rossi’s own account, were “a week or two away” from shutting down. As a last ditch effort, they pivoted yet again, building Sweet Tooth as a loyalty app for the Shopify platform and finally having something to smile about.
The rebrand to Smile.io happened in 2017, the company already having climbed its way out of a hole and leading the way in loyalty apps. Today, Magento isn’t even part of the equation, though they have built out integrations with BigCommerce and Wix to build off their Shopify success. There are currently over 20,000 live loyalty programs powered by Smile.io that are rewarding more than 100 million participants. And, in a true mark of success, developers are now looking to build integrations to work with Smile. Good things can happen when you give up your sweet tooth.
It’s a testament to the scope of Smile’s abilities that its pricing varies so widely from the low end to the top tier. There’s no amount of success you can have that will see you growing out of the app.
- Free, $0/month — There’s no time limit on the free plan, so you could conceivably run it forever, but feature-wise it’s really a trial situation. You’ll have access to Smile’s Points and Referral programs, but no personalized branding of any kind, and all rewards emails it sends to your customers will use default pre-written text. The reporting will give you only the most basic overview.
- Starter, $49/month — Includes the points and referral programs, and you’re able to run with custom branding. Emails can be customized by you, but the reporting is still just the basics. This plan also allows you to integrate one other app with Smile.
- Growth, $199/month — All of the above, plus “Nudges” (see The Details below for more info on this), points expiration, and up to two integrations. At this level, the full analytics dashboard is available to you.
- Pro, $599/month — All of the above, plus the VIP program and unlimited integrations.
- Enterprise, Custom pricing starting at $1k/month — All of the above, plus API access for custom integrations
While the goal of any good loyalty program is to reward your customers for sticking around over the long haul, no such investment of time is required to realize the value of Smile. Installing it is a matter of integrating with your e-commerce platform, and once that’s completed it’s a matter of minutes before you have your first rewards program go live.
During installation, you can choose whether you want to set up a Points program or one for Referrals. Note that you can run both of these at the same time, but you’ll only be setting up one of them at first, and can enable the other once you’re inside the admin panel. If you're on the Growth plan or higher, you can also add a VIP program, as well.
In any case, setting up any of the programs is pretty simple. If, during installation, you chose “Points,” it’s just a matter of defining the value of those points. How many points does a customer earn per dollar spent? What’s the value of the point when it’s time to redeem? If you can answer those two questions, you can set up your points program. If you’re on the free plan, you’ll be able to set the colors to match your website, and with paid plans you can add images to more brand Smile more fully. Beyond the colors and images, any level of user can customize the name of their points to be on-brand. You can call them Stars, or Donuts, or even George, if you want. It’s a nice little touch that gives the whole rewards initiative a more organic feel for your store.
Having gone through the simple exercise of defining your points and customizing the look of Smile within your website, you’re brought to the admin panel where you can start building out your programs even more. There are other ways for customers to earn points, for example, that doesn’t require them to make a purchase. You can offer a signup bonus, as well as give incentives for follows, shares, and likes on social media. These are one-time only incentives to prevent abuse. You can also configure redemption so that points either get a discount via percentage or dollar amount, or even free shipping.
To keep your rewards program dynamic and sustain your customers’ interest, the VIP program is an excellent option. With this, you can create multiple tiers for your customers to work toward, attainable by spending a certain amount of money or reaching a specific number of points. Once they’ve moved up, the reward for the higher status might be as simple as increasing the number of points they earn—maybe instead of five for every dollar spent you bump it up to 10. You can also get creative and add perks, like special sales, free gifts, or anything else you can think of.
With the Free and Starter plans, this is about the extent of what you’ll be able to do with Smile (we haven’t covered the Referral program here, but this is fairly self explanatory). If you’re interested in seeing the impact your programs are having, you’ll only be able to see a very high level overview of results: how many program members you have, and how many purchases were driven by your points and referral programs. At higher levels, you’ll get more in-depth analytics—though you should understand that this just means they’re more in-depth than the overview. The data you get here isn’t exactly deep: you’ll learn how many points are out there, unredeemed, how much revenue the program generated for you, and get an idea of referral trends. These are helpful, but don’t justify the $150 jump in price from the Starter to Growth plan.
For many apps, integrations serve to extend the usage in a “nice-to-have” kind of way. For a few of the integrations with Smile, though, they border on “need-to-have.” Most specifically are some of the integrations with e-mail marketing platforms. Without them, Smile can send a number of automated emails, but they’re all reactions to something. Meaning, you’ll get a confirmation and a welcome when you sign up, and you’ll be notified of any activity, like when points are earned or redeemed, or a referral earned you a reward.
To get really proactive and market like a pro, you’ll want to integrate with Klaviyo, Mailchimp, or Omnisend. Other email marketing platforms are supported as well, but these are the big three with the most functionality. With these, you can sync your rewards customers, and segment them (helpful for multi-tier programs), and create automated flows to generate more sales. When someone signs up, for example, they’ll still get their Welcome email, but then that can kick off a drip or nurture campaign to ensure they come back and keep shopping.
Another notable group of integrations is the one that facilitates customer reviews. With Yotpo, Okendo, and Stamped, customers can earn points for leaving reviews (and, again, there are safeguards built in for preventing abuse of this).
One very unique integration is the one developed by Arka, a service for providing customized and sustainably sourced packaging (think branded boxes, mailers, stickers, and tissue papers for shipping). With this integration, you can incentivize your customers to recycle your boxes/packaging in order to earn more points.
Smile.io takes a simple concept—rewarding your customers’ loyalty—and keeps it simple in the execution. That simplicity is key. Neither shop owners nor customers want to be bogged down in the details of a loyalty program; it’s too complicated then no one will want to bother. And so Smile delivers on the promise of that concept, and the results (Smile’s leadership in the space, for example) speak for themselves.
The one place where Smile could have gone deeper, though, is in analytics. The reporting is pretty minimal, which is understandable on its own as there isn’t that much to report. But the cost involved in getting those “advanced” analytics does not jibe with the value of the information. Where Smile could go the extra mile is in data harvesting options that allow merchants to get to know their customers better. If more than a billion people will tell Meta, Inc. everything about themselves just to use Facebook for free, they’ll absolutely share information in exchange for points and merch. This kind of fact-finding only increases the effectiveness of any customer retention program. Smile has already shown itself to create tremendous value for its customers, though, and that’s the main bit of data anyone interested in deploying it should be concerned with.