Fiachra Woodman left Galway 30 years ago to pursue a career in IT, but visited the country he still calls home this week to launch his new disruptive retail loyalty app. CardTrix is the first prototype to come onto the market since Woodman established the Global Innovations Lab in early 2014, within data-driven marketing and analytics company Aimia.
The free app aims to “help people to declutter their digital lives and get the most out of their shopping”, Woodman says. CardTrix works by storing digital versions of retail loyalty cards in a “wallet” in the app, getting rid of the need to carry cards, while also making it easier to apply for new loyalty programmes.
The app, launched last Monday, has been specifically designed for the Irish market.
Woodman says he chose to trial the app in Ireland due to its retail environment, loyalty and smartphone cultures, and people who are “pretty well disposed to change and willing to embrace new ideas”.
“We’ve created it with Ireland in mind, so I hope it works well here.”
Woodman, the youngest of six children, was born in Belfast before his family later moved to Galway.
By the time he left the west coast of Ireland for London in 1985, all of his brothers and sisters had already emigrated.
“I really just wanted to see more of the world and it was just natural within our family to move,” Woodman says. “There weren’t a lot of opportunities back then. We all left hoping and expecting that we’d come back, but none of us did.
“Every one of us was more fiercely Irish than the next, but none of us have managed to find our way home yet,” he says.
Woodman's interest in logic and binary led him to programming, and he began working in IT with retailer River Island, saying "there weren't the same job classifications in IT as there are now; back then we had to do everything".
He worked with several companies before joining Aimia, and becoming the IT director for their UK, and later European, Middle-Eastern and African operations.
It runs a number of coalition and proprietary loyalty programmes in 20 countries, including Nectar in the UK and Italy, Aeroplan in Canada, and Air Miles in the Middle East.
“We try and make large organisations do naturally what the corner shop used to be able to do,” Woodman says, “and that’s just recognising who your customers are and anticipating their needs and rewarding your best customers.
“Eight-seven per cent of the population have at least one loyalty card,” Woodman says, adding on average people have four cards.
He began to tire of working in IT and pitched the notion of a Global Innovations Lab within Aimia. It has produced 14 prototypes since it was set up last year, with CardTrix the first to hit the market.
“I love my job now,” Woodman says. “It’s almost like going back to when I started in IT a long time ago, because there’s so much scope to try new ideas and try new concepts.”
He says he has a “secret weapon” that helps him to keep in touch with what consumers want from retail loyalty – a group of mothers from the Parent Teacher Association, whom he calls his “viciously candid mums”.
He says they talk frankly to him about what they want from loyalty programmes, which is mainly “less hassle”.
“If we constantly anchor ourselves and try to think about what consumers want and what would make their lives easier, then invariably we can come up with propositions that people are really excited about,” he says.
Woodman says he hopes to expand, depending on how the Irish trial of CardTrix goes. He feels that Ireland has become a “very dynamic, vibrant, sophisticated retail environment that it wasn’t 30 years ago”.
He thinks there are enormous opportunities available to the new generation of Irish emigrants making their way in business.
“Certainly the impression that I get is that Irish graduates are emerging onto the world stage incredibly well qualified and incredibly well poised to compete in the European and global job market”
Woodman says he feels his career has come full circle by returning to trial his new venture three decades after initially leaving.
He says that emigrants can sometimes feel detached from their home after all the years away, but that “you take it with you in your heart”.
“It’s really fun for me, having taken the first prototype out of the Global Innovations Lab and getting the chance to do that in Ireland. This is as happy as I get”.