Coupon Connections


A Michigan community bank’s mobile app links its customers to local merchant deals

By Ed Avis

Customers of Chelsea State Bank, a 115-year-old community bank about 15 miles west of Ann Arbor, Mich., are accustomed to receiving personal service and friendly attention. But late last year the $260 million-asset bank began offering something new: discounts at local merchants through a smartphone app.

“Our slogan for the past two or three years has been ‘Keep It Local,’ and we believe in that very much,” says John Mann, the bank’s president and CEO. “So the thought of doing something that could encourage our customers to shop at local merchants was very intriguing.”

The bank’s Local Edge app, available for Apple and Android platforms, lists special discounts from 30 merchants in the Chelsea area, as well as from 20 national merchants. The app uses GPS technology to alert customers to offers when they are in the proximity of those businesses.

When a customer wants to use one of the deals, which include offers such as 10 percent off service at a local auto dealer and 25 percent off one item at a clothing store, he or she simply shows the app to the clerk.

“I’ve been using one that offers 10 percent off a purchase of $10 or more at a local restaurant,” Mann says.

Outside developer

The idea for the local shopping app emerged last summer at a state banking event, where Mann met staff from Larky Inc., an Ann Arbor–based firm that develops Web and mobile benefits programs for financial institutions.

Mann discussed the idea with Sally Peters, Chelsea State Bank’s marketing director. They both liked the idea of connecting customers to local merchants, but they felt more input was needed. “So we held our own internal focus group and invited employees from every facet of the organization, and every age,” Peters says.

The focus group confirmed their hunch: “John and I were blown away by how much every employee loved this concept of offering discounts to their customers, and how excited they were to use it themselves.”

With that stamp of approval, the bank’s staff and its app builder went to work. “It’s a turnkey operation, and Larky staff did most of the work,” Mann explains.

Larky, which charges its clients a start-up fee and a monthly fee, customized the app for Chelsea State Bank, including branding it with its Local Edge name. The bank provided a list of local merchants—some current bank customers and some prospects—for the company’s app developers to call on for advice. Merchants do not pay to be included in the app.

Soft launch

The app went live in December with minimal promotion. “Our goal was to get it out there before the holidays, but we decided to take it slow to make sure it’s all implemented correctly,” Peters says.

Customers can download the app from the bank’s website, and as of early January about 60 people had done so.

The bank plans to promote the app with billboards, lobby posters and handouts, contests, stickers for the windows of participating merchants and social media. “Our main focus will be Facebook,” Peters says.

Chelsea State Bank was one of the app developer’s first customers, which fits the bank’s character, Peters says. “Chelsea State Bank is an early adopter. We’re not afraid to do something new.”

Ed Avis is a freelance writer in Illinois.