New Business Loyalty Program Coming Soon To Malibu

Malibu Village Marquee.

As the nation awaits deployment of a coronavirus vaccine to help end the pandemic, the business community is also hoping for a shot in the arm in this economic time of uncertainty. The Malibu Chamber of Commerce is launching Malibu Rewards in an effort to do just that—keep customers returning and reward them for their loyalty.

Malibu is one of just four cities in this new venture, joining Santa Monica, Sacramento and Pittsburgh. Though it’s not up-and-running just yet, the project should be online soon.

Saltwater Software, based in Santa Monica, is the company behind the loyalty program rolling out in Malibu. Mayor Mikke Pierson is Saltwater’s chief operating officer.

The program works like this: You register your Visa, American Express or Mastercard at to see which businesses are participating. Then, as Jason Gilbert of Saltwater Software explained, you “instantly gain access to all the businesses publishing rewards in the city of Malibu. 

“Consumers have the ability to shop at all their favorite businesses under one umbrella and earn rewards,” Gilbert said. “They also have the opportunity to earn points with the chamber of commerce toward other types of special events, products or services that ladder up on top of the rewards the businesses are offering. It’s a great way for a chamber, a city [and] a retail center to drive consumer traffic—helping all the local businesses and rewarding the consumers that visit the area and shop at their favorite businesses.”

The program is being called a “coalition loyalty program,” Gilbert added.

“It doesn’t cost the merchant anything to participate in terms of sign up,” he said. “They have all the marketing collateral. They have the ability to run their own rewards program. We provide them a platform where they can run all their own rewards, publish them in the [website] so that when a consumer registers their card, they see all the businesses in Malibu that are participating.” However, it should be noted that businesses would reward Saltwater with a two-percent return on gross sales.

Businesses can offer a “progressive reward, a digital punch card or cash back” according to Gilbert, who added, “It’s a great way for businesses to create promotions and offers during slow days or times. It rewards their best customers. It helps all these merchants compete with the big-box retailers. We’re bringing a loyalty program just as robust as the big-boxes for all the independent, smaller merchants that want to participate and compete at that level.”

Advantages for consumers are that loyalty or perks from registered credit cards will still count on top of Malibu Rewards, there is no app to download, no card that needs to be carried and no phone number to remember—register once and you’re done.   

“The business benefits because now they can run a robust rewards program at no upfront fees, no point of sale integration and very minimal staff training. They also have a city marketing and driving traffic to their businesses,” Gilbert explained. The executive also claimed businesses will receive “all the valuable transaction data. That’s critical for a merchant.”

“The way Saltwater makes money is we have a marketing fee based on every transaction that runs through the platform. If we send a coffee shop $1,000 worth of business, we have a $20 marketing fee.”

When asked whether there was any potential conflict of interest in the mayor’s participation, should, say, a business that has not signed on to the program come before the city council on issues of development, planning, zoning and the like, Pierson said there was no issue. 

“There’s absolutely no conflict,” Pierson said. “I’ve been involved in retail for most of my life. We are launching our program in cities all over America, so this is not just in Malibu. I’m an employee there [Saltwater]. It’s just like anyone else’s day job. There’s no difference.” Pierson said he has no incentive payments or bonuses based on how well the program performs, although he said he does have “options in the company if we ever succeed, but right now I own nothing. Any marketing fees are payable to the company, not me. There’s no commission.”

Pierson noted that a business does not have to be in the chamber to participate.

Saltwater’s Steve Jaffe said the program helps small stores struggling to get customers in the door.

“The reason this is beneficial is because of the need to drive foot traffic to brick and mortar merchants,” Jaffe said. “In the COVID world we’re living in, so much foot traffic and sales have been impacted where cities and businesses are trying to find a way to bring customers back. It’s all about driving the local economy and supporting local businesses.”