FiveStars Review

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Date Established
Winter 2011
Location
San Francisco, California

Overview:

Fivestars Loyalty Inc. had pretty humble beginnings. Picture two guys in grungy t-shirts eating ramen and getting creative. No, it’s not Wayne and Garth; it’s Victor Ho and Matt Doka. The Founders of Fivestars were both consultants at McKinsey before they decided to venture out on their own. The Fivestars Loyalty program was debuted during the Y-Combinator Winter 2011 session. Most recently, Fivestars has raised 26 million in series B funding from investors, including Menlo Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, DCM and Rogers Communications. Employment numbers have expanded as well, with roughly 150 sales reps and 50 support staff available to service over 5000 active merchants, a number they estimate will grow considerably in the next year. Fivestars users range in the millions, over 9 million, actually, which makes for a great data pool.

The biggest draws for Fivestars are its POS integration, marketing tools, and the sign up process. Fivestars has ramped up their marketing tools with the Autopilot feature and a new promotion feature to bring back customers. They’ve also added some new features to their mobile app. Read more for more information on how the Fivestars program works.

Pricing:

Fivestars has simplified its pricing model, offering tiered pricing plans to merchants with inclusive features. Their basic plan includes two customer facing tablets, POS integration, the Autopilot program, onboarding and three training sessions for $279 per month. The next tier includes unlimited promotions for $299.00 per month. They offer a third tier for enterprise level clients.

Cancellation Policy:

Contract lengths vary but six months is standard. You are obligated to pay the full value of your contract if you decide to cancel early.  Your service will continue on a month to month basis at the end of your contract. You can cancel without penalty once your initial contract is fulfilled.

Gracie Binder, who works in Product Marketing at Fivestars, had this to say regarding contracts and cancellation:

“At Fivestars, we ask our clients to agree to a 6 month term. We do this simply because customer loyalty programs take a little while to ramp up and drive revenue. The agreement is by no means used to corner a business into using our software; it’s meant to give the program a chance to truly prove its value. Additionally, we think an investment in your customers should be viewed as a long-term commitment, but we will never penalize you for choosing to cancel with us after this 6 month period. In fact, we’ll even give you all of the customer data you collected through our program if you do choose to part ways with us.”

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Web based or Locally – Installed:

The software is locally installed on your POS or Computer using a USB. Your dashboard can be accessed via the Fivestars website.

Hardware and Software Requirements:

Fivestars software works with POS systems or computers. Fivestars software works on most Windows operating systems and requires 256MB of RAM and 250MB of hard drive space.

In order to access your merchant dashboard, you’ll need to use a supported browser (Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 10 or Firefox).

Specific Size of Business and Type (Or Company Size):

Fivestars is pretty honed on small businesses and only serves brick and mortar stores (no ecommerce solutions here). Their local clients range from coffee shops to bars and pubs. Their nonlocal clients tend to be small chain restaurants (such as Hwy 55 Burgers) or Tobacco and Vapor stores.

Ease of Use:

How it Works – You can view a demo of how the program works here. Fivestars uses a few simple steps to interact with customers using the loyalty program. Signup only requires a phone number, and if it’s too busy to gather additional information from your customer, the program provides options to acquire that information later via text or email campaigns, or through the customer’s interaction with the Fivestars web or mobile app. Recently Fivestars made tablets a standard hardware feature in their pricing model, so the customer facing tablet can be used to gather data without tying up the cashier line.

Installation – Fivestars will send you an installation kit with a USB key to be plugged into your main POS terminal or computer. Once your device recognizes the software, you’ll follow the prompts to install it. The Installation article on Fivestars gives you step by step instructions, and Fivestars offers installation support if you need any assistance.

Sign Up – When signing up new customers, you’ll scan their Fivestars card first. New customers are registered by entering a phone number. Optional information such as name, email, birthday, and notes, can be collected at that time, or via the options listed above.

User Interface – The Fivestars program is pretty square, which isn’t a bad thing. Large buttons and letters make selecting options on the screen fairly easy. The design makes sense and the colors are unobtrusive.

POS Integration – So far, Fivestars has been pretty successful with POS integration. They operate in all fifty states, as well as Canada.

Dashboard – I found the Dashboard Demo pretty helpful. Your dashboard can be accessed on the Fivestars website. The dashboard comes with three levels of access.

  • Read Only –Information can be viewed, but not edited.
  • CRM – Send campaigns or edit customer and business profiles
  • All Access – Edit billing, reward structure, business name and thresholds

Dashboard headings help you navigate through various program options.

  • Overview – this page shows a summary of stats on your loyalty program including total visits, referrals and members. It also shows your progress on your monthly sign up goal.
  • Campaigns – this page allows you to manage your email, text message, or AutoPilot campaigns.
  • Members – You can view, sort and tag members here, as well as edit member information.
  • Reports – You can generate member and usage reports here, and additional reports depending on your program features.
  • Settings – This is where you’ll be able to edit your thresholds, business profile, etc.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

My first experience with Fivestars, though not terrible, was not that great. This time around, response times were much better, I had the rep’s full attention, and sales and support lines were picked up within less than a minute.

Phone – For all inquiries you can call their general number at 860.578.2770.

  1. You can shoot technical support an email at support@Fivestars.com.
  2. Their Support Webpage is loaded with useful articles and FAQs. You can also check out their Blog, which features articles on loyalty programs, tips and success stories.

Onboarding and Training – Fivestars offers three training sessions for their merchants, which can be done in person. Onboarding includes vertical data for promotions and additional setup support

Video Tutorials – Fivestars offers tons of video tutorials. These guys love making YouTube videos of themselves, and some of them are pretty helpful. They offer more extensive tutorials on their website, as well as training videos on the Fivestars University webpage. Here are some additional videos:

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Fivestars Loyalty has a C- rating with the BBB and four complaints in the last three years. Most of the complaints are billing or sales related, and the most recent complaint hasn’t been answered. The Fivestars app gets 4 out of 5 stars in the Google play store with 2500 ratings. The app gets 4 out of 5 stars with 345 ratings overall in the Apple store, though the latest version has a higher rating. In the previous review, there were two issues with Fivestars that they’ve improved on. The first was their mobile app and its lackluster features. The second was their training and support outside of their local area. These things have improved, but they still have work to do.

Decreased support outside of local area – Though you’ll find Fivestars locations nationwide, and even areas outside the US, operations are concentrated in San Francisco, Northern California, Chicago and Denver. If you’re operating outside of these areas, Fivestars has increased its outside sales force, but they still can’t reach everyone. Additionally, local merchants get access to the innovation of Fivestars at a much faster rate than nonlocal merchants.

App Functionality – On the customer side of things, Fivestars ratings have improved, but there are still some bugs to fix. The most frequent issue is loss of points, or not getting credit for check-ins. This could be an error on the merchant side or an inherent flaw in the way the app works.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

Fivestars has a self-proclaimed retention rate of 90% among their clients. Some of their success stories, like Fibbar & Molly MaGees, can be found on their blog.

Increased Customer Activity – Fivestars clients have reported significant improvement in participation in the rewards program as well as an increase in profits.

“My business profits have increased from $50 – $150 a day to $400 – $800 a day! Fivestars pays for itself!”

– Sarah, Chama’s Dog Wash & Wellness San Diego, CA

Easy Signup – All you need to sign up new customers, or convert existing ones, is their phone number. Every time after that, customers just need to swipe their card. If they don’t have their card, you can enter their phone number.

“The best thing about Fivestars is how easy it is to swipe and punch in info. There is very little we need to do on an administrative basis.”

– James, Cafe Dulce Los Angeles, CA

Innovative marketing tools – Fivestars offers a few automated programs to help you continue to engage with frequent, at risk, and lost customers. These tools analyze customer data in a way many programs don’t (unless you have a really big marketing budget).

Features:

Service with Fivestars includes training and support, an account manager, monthly marketing meetings, online resources, and unlimited cards for your program.

Loyalty Programs – Your Fivestars rep will help you build a custom loyalty program that suits your business and your goals. You can go with their suggestions or choose something different altogether. Some of the options for these programs include:

  • Per visit point system (with or without minimum dollar values)
  • Per dollar point system
  • VIP member status
  • Multiple tiers

Dashboard – Your dashboard is set up to make accessing your program data easy, and can be accessed via the Fivestars website. You can also edit certain features, such as your business profile, monthly sign up goals, and additional campaigns. Check out the dashboard demo on YouTube.

Social Media Integrations – Fivestars integrates your social media information with your business profile on their mobile app and website. What’s missing in this feature is the ability to tie social media interaction directly to your customers’ rewards.

Promotions – Fivestars offers the ability to send promotions to your customers via the channel of their choice: email, SMS text, or mobile app. While there is a numeric limit to how many messages your customers can receive, there is no limit to the number of messages you can send. Promotions can be sent to specific customers, or customer groups generated by Fivestars.

AutoPilot Campaign – These campaigns are automated and preprogrammed to target specific customers. You can modify the template for each message, but the program decides which customers will receive the message. You can view the AutoPilot FAQs for more details. The campaigns can be activated from your dashboard and include expiry options The campaigns are:

  • Network – generated when a Fivestars member joins your program before visiting your store
  • Smart Data Collection – generated after the 2nd visit to collect birthday and email address information
  • New – generated an hour after the first visit to ask for return business
  • At Risk – generated after 30 days of inactivity
  • Lapsed – generated after the 60th, 90th, and 120th day of inactivity
  • Lost – generated
  • Growth – generated after every X number of rewards to offer an additional reward
  • Birthday – generated 7 days before a customer’s birthday

Mobile App – Fivestars has recently added Bluetooth beacon technology for some of their local merchants. This technology enables automatic check-ins when your customers enter your business. In lieu of a mobile scanner, Fivestars has also added a “one-tap” check-in feature for Bay area merchants. Members who use the Fivestars app and have joined your loyalty program can receive “Push” notifications from your business when you send out promotions.

Integrations and Add-Ons:

Fivestars has opted to include tablets and marketing features in their monthly subscription packages, a much simpler option than paying additional amounts for SMS text messaging, additional campaigns, and tablets.

Security:

The Fivestars software and dashboard are password protected with access controls.

The Loyalty Test:

Reviewing Fivestars overall, do they:

  • Increase repeat business – Yes. Positive feedback from clients has shown increases in profits and exposure. I think what makes this loyalty program appealing is the seamless process. Working with the system you have (be it POS or a computer), offering training and support for employees, and providing tutorials for text and email campaigns makes the whole process a little less daunting. As a consumer, I find it very disconcerting when the cashier I’m working with can’t answer my questions about the loyalty program. I’m more likely to participate if the cashier can explain the program to me and answer basic questions. Aside from that, the Autopilot campaign and promotions give your customers more reasons to come back.
  • Generate new business – Not actively. Marketing tools are focused on retaining and increasing spend with current customers, but there aren’t any specific tools designed to reach customers who’ve never entered your business, unless you count the Network campaign. Fivestars members can locate businesses nearby that use the card, giving you added exposure to Fivestars’ 9 million member base. If a Fivestars member joins your loyalty program but doesn’t check-in to your location, the Autopilot program will send out a message reminding that customer to come in. Social media links are accessible through your business profile, so you can try to entice potential customers if they happen to visit your social media pages. Other than that, there’s not much there.
  • Give you a competitive edge – Yes. Studies show that continued customer engagement is an effective way to increase revenue substantially. Fivestars tools give you the ability to stay engaged with your customers beyond the point of purchase. Knowing what promotions work and are best effective for your business type is also one of the ways Fivestars helps your business remain relevant to your customers. They’ve evolved on the customer-facing tablet issue, making tablets a standard part of their subscription package, and the training they provide via onboarding and tutorials can really make a difference in the execution of your loyalty program. Well trained employees can quickly and effectively communicate the highlights of your program and provide a positive experience to your customers.

Final Verdict:

Fivestars is a great option for merchants, particularly those operating in their local area. If you’re in the Bay area, or near a Fivestars HQ, you can maximize on their customer service and pick their brains for ideas to improve your loyalty program (You’ll also get to try out the new features first!). The price for the program is higher than others, but not unreasonable, especially for what they offer. The no-way-out contracts are a little intimidating, and they don’t seem to wiggle, so make sure you’re ok with that, and check out your other options before signing a contract. Fivestars continues to improve both on the structure of their service and the features they offer. They should be expanding some of their mobile features to include nonlocal merchants soon. Their BBB rating did go down since my last review, though, so customer relations have ample room to grow.

Phylicia Joannis

Phylicia Joannis

Phylicia is a freelancer, indie author, and Google addict. She used to scout all of New York’s free venues in her spare time, but now she’s reviewing loyalty rewards software for Merchant Maverick. Her professional background includes technical writing and research, though she’s also fluent in toddler gibberish. When she’s not crying over spilled milk, Phylicia enjoys reading, writing, and conducting random Google searches.
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16 Comments

    Erin Estilette

    Worst company ever. They do every underhanded thing to get you to sign up, the machines never work (servers always down), the dashboard doesn’t work (supposedly set up incorrectly), and when you call to cancel, there is “no one available to help with that, but we can set up an appointment for you to speak to someone.” That someone never calls on time and then they try to lock you into an invalid contract, since they’ve never provided a working service in the first place, and try to charge you a ridiculous amount of money for NOTHING PROVIDED.

    1
    Bill Barrons

    Erin, I am considering 5 star. You sound like you had a bad experience. can you elaborate?

    Erin Davis

    Bill,

    Different Erin here, but we use FiveStars and while we haven’t had ridiculous growth because of it, our customers like it and we’ve seen people return because of the promotions. We might see more growth from it if I was maximizing the promotion tools better.

    Unlike the other Erin, I’ve had great customer service experiences and they’ve been very attentive. When I was hesitant, they did whatever they could to make it easier for me. We were able to have a free trial and a little extra time before we had to start the contract and they were also great about working with us on pricing.

    All in all, I’m very pleased with the service.
    We run a small boutique in Central Illinois about 3 hours from Chicago, but I think the customer service and account reps I have worked with are in California.

    Hope that helps,
    Erin

    Kimberly

    After months of being emailed and called on by Five Stars I decided to take a look at their services. I should add that over these months of being called on, they kept asking for a previous owner who has not been involved in this business in 7 years, even once asking if I knew when he’d be in stating that he had asked them to call .. despite this deceit, I still decided to look into what they might be able to offer my small business. I spent 1 hour and 40 minutes for a presentation I was told would take approximately 20 minutes give or take. I was completely transparent about my business revenue from the beginning but ended up being met with an unaffordable rate and told my business was too small for them to help .. so basically they didn’t want to give me a rate that could help me build my business to a point where their rate became affordable. Incidentally, I was told that they were in business to help small businesses grow .. not so much. I will NOT look at them again but will pursue other programs that are truly in business to help small business.

    D

    This Company is horrible. They charge way too much for the services they provide. Do not get into a contract with them. It is a nightmare to change anything or get any money back from them. Appcard is a good company that we have switched to that we are very happy with.

    1
    Gilberto

    Hi PhyliciaDo you know of an app or program which you can buy which basically does the same thing as these loyalty programs do but stores the info on your own data base.

    5
    Mike Polner

    Hey Phylicia, Love the posts! Merchant Maverick is super insightful and it’s clear it’s a really valuable tool for readers! I’m the Director of Product Marketing @ FiveStars – lots has changed in the past few months for our product and for our customers. Would love to connect and chat! I’m available over email at mike.polner@fivestars.comThanks!

    5

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Amad Ebrahimi

    Thank you for the kind words Mike. We will definitely update the FiveStars review. I’ll let Phylicia know.

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Sean Williams

    Hi Amad, Any idea when we are going to be able to get the Fivestars price and features updates? Thank you for your help.

    5

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Richard

    We have done comparisons of where our customers come from and why and no one comes from fivestars. We have advertised it and we basically stopped after 4-5 months. We had a 6 month agreement with them where they would charge us 199.99 and we thought would stop afterwards. We called numerous times to cancel and were still charged. We are going over a year now here and after putting a stop payment on the 199.99 they charged us 1 cent more for 200 so it would not trigger a red flag. Pretty scummy if you ask me. Stay clear.

    1

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    RJ Meyer

    Do you know what Fivestars and Belly charge for setup and/or equipment fees?

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Phylicia Joannis

    Hi RJ

    For Belly, everything you need to set up your program (iPad hardware, software, & rewards cards) is included with the cost of your subscription. The same is true for Fivestars, which includes POS integration, if necessary.

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Vincent Palermo

    For full disclosure, I am a San Diego-based employee of FiveStars and have worked for this extraordinary company for nearly two years (one of the testimonials you cite came from a client of mine). I would like to thank you Phylicia for your comprehensive review of our service, it is my hope that your unbiased approach will give merchants a thorough perspective of the program. There are, however, a couple factual misinterpretations of our service in this review. We have also made some tremendous updates at FiveStars that will address some of the concerns which you mentioned. Firstly, while it is true that we have field reps to assist merchants in select areas of the country, we are growing our reach and refining our process. Aside from Northern California and Chicago, we also have a strong presence of remote employees serving merchants in LA, San Diego, Orange County, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Dallas, Minneapolis, Miami, Austin, and more to come very soon. While we may not be able to cannot cater to the needs on-site of merchants in other areas; our metrics show that these merchants are just as successful with the program as markets with face-to-face reps (I personally have very successful accounts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Louisiana) . This is due to our continued investment in tutorials, successful account management and remote onboarding. I am sorry to hear about your experience with remote support and your sales reps. In the past few months, we have greatly expanded our support team and have reduced our average wait time to less than one minute. We are very conscious of efficiency and do not want any merchant in need of assistance waiting to speak with someone. I cannot attest to your experience with the sales rep via phone, but since your posting we have made strides internally to improve our telesales division. Regardless, the level of attention to the potential client that you referenced has never been a part of the way we do business at FiveStars. You likely spoke with a representative that was new and/or is no longer with us. That behavior does not align with our company ethos. We CAN tie social media interaction into the customer rewards. This can be achieved through the autopilot feature that you referenced. I urge my clients to reward a Facebook, Instagram, or Yelp Check-In/Post on the “new customer” or “growth” trigger. This is also something we are building out even further in the future. Merchants are not limited to one text per week. As a FiveStars user, I can only receive one text per business (that I am signed up with) per week. We do this to address concerns (as you cited above) that customers could feel spammed or even felt uncomfortable that a business is continually texting them. For the record, our average unsubscribe rate for the 6000 locations that we work with is less than 4%. That hints few customers dislike text message offers. Nevertheless, if you do not like to receive texts from a business but still like promotions, we have a new feature to address that. With our recently launched Promotions feature, users can receive push notifications or emails if they have unsubscribed to the FiveStars text (or given a landline to the store employee). That greatly expands the merchant’s reach, allows them more ability to send multiple promotions in a single week (if they choose) and also track the redemption rates on promotional campaigns. You mentioned that autopilot cannot be customized. I am sure you understand how this feature works, but the way it was phrased may be misleading to other readers. Indeed autopilot can be customized. We tell the business owners “you set it up and we send it out.” Of the five categories you listed for automated campaigns (with more categories coming shortly), a merchant has the ability to choose the content of the automated promotion and can change it, at any time, from their online dashboard. Their FiveStars consultant will advise them on best autopilot practices/incentives, but at the end of the day, the merchant has the final say. Another cool update is that you can now schedule the exact day/time of day that I receive the automated promotion. For example: let’s say you own a salon but are closed on Mondays. Yet I am due to receive my “at-risk” (30 days, no visit) text on Monday. We can actually schedule the timing of the text, so that I receive it at 12pm (ie.) the next day, to avoid any confusion and drive more traffic to your business. You cited a lot of concerns with the UI and issues with the mobile app. That is something that our product team has made huge improvements upon since this article was published and we are continually stabilizing and adding more features to the app. I personally am part of the internal beta test team for app updates, so I assure you that my colleagues are working very hard. These improvements are generated by user feedback, which we are always appreciative of. Finally, although you gave FiveStars overall a four-star review, you mention that we do not have a good app or a customer facing iPad. I’ve already addressed the major improvements in our app (both Android and App Store). The reason we do not have a customer facing iPad (unlike some loyalty programs on the market) is because we want the customer to interact with the employee and not a device. This makes the transaction more personable, which aligns with our mission statement of “turning every transaction into a relationship.” Also, we’ve been able to prove a higher signup rate than tablet-based rewards programs, simply because most customers consciously ignore the tablet at the front counter. Most customer facing iPad programs also do not offer the ability to give rewards for itemized purchases or dollars spent (they are only per visit)—a majority of traditional stamp cards cannot be converted onto a visit-based rewards program. This means that if I spend $2 at a coffee shop, I will get the same amount of points as a person that spends $50. Loyalty programs are counter-intuitive if they do not reward good spending behavior. With that said, keep your eyes open for some BIG things from FiveStars within the next few months. Cheers,Vincent PalermoSenior Loyalty Consultant (San Diego)

    5

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Ed

    Fivestars prices have increased since this review. I’m now paying $219 per month for services that I don’t need. It was explained to me that $219 is the cheapest option I had. I’m currently looking for other options.***[Updated]When I first signed up with Fivestars, I was offered three tiers of services at three price levels: $99, $149 and $219. It was suggested to me by my sales person to start at the higher tier and scale down as I better understand the system. It has been 5 months since and I started with Fivestars and I now understand that I don not need the higher tier service. I called customer service to change my level of service and got a ringing phone with no one answering (not even a recorded message). I tried all day and had no luck! I called back the next day and after trying for over an hour, i got some to answer the phone. According to that person, there were no problems with their phone service! and it sounded like a frat party in the background. Anyway, customer service scheduled an appointment with my Sales person who called me the following day. I was informed by my sales person that the Fivestars has changed their price structure and the prices now start at $219. They explained that their prices were competitive and in line with similar companies. When I threatened to leave, they basically told me “good Luck”.I’m a small vape shop in Sacramento, California. I started with Fivestars five month ago. my first reaction, was I was giving too much away with no data to back up the program. After my fourth month, I did an analysis comparing January 2015 to April 2015 and here is what I found:I compared the number of visits of my top 10 customers and noticed an in increase in visits by 14.5%. I also compared the amount spent per visit and found that the average spent per visit decreased by 7%, however, overall money spent by my top 10 customers has increased by 24%. After giving rewards to my customers, I found that my profit has stayed the same. Maybe I’m giving too much as rewards and I need to scale it down. All this calculation, I had to do on my own and if it was not for my background as an accountant, I would not have learned the effectiveness of the program.3 out of 5 stars

    2

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Gil Bert

    Do you have a few competitors of Five Stars you recommend?

    5

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Phylicia Joannis

    Hi Gil!

    You can check out Belly, which has a similar platform. You might also consider Loyalty Gator or Perkville. They all service brick and mortar locations.

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

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