It might have been natural to despair at the hardships the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed on Yellowknife businesses, but Rami Kassem kept a watchful eye on new opportunities.
In August of 2020, he began working on a digital platform that would produce coupon vouchers for businesses in the city.
After six months of working with a developer on the app, platform and website, Kassem’s Aurora Coupons went live in February, 2021.
“I’ve been running Javaroma since 2009 and I’ve done lots of marketing for my business,” Kassem said. “I know that every business needs customers to come in and have their business needs met so they become loyal. So offers and promotions are useful. When the pandemic started I decided it was the right time to do it.”
Aurora Coupons brings together local companies’ promotions of products and services into one app, saving customers the effort of learning about offerings on their own.
The app also answers the need to maintain social distancing.
“Loyalty cards or stamp cards aren’t good for the environment because they’re disposable. People are so careful about touching during COVID-19. People aren’t comfortable anymore with traditional coupon programs. I thought this was the right time to go fully digital and be one of the first companies in the NWT to do this, and hopefully one of the first in Canada to have it all on one platform.”
About 26 companies have participated with offers on Aurora Coupons since it launched, with more than 800 downloads of the app and over 10,000 visitors each month to the website.
Kassem estimates 1,000 coupons have been redeemed.
Featured businesses’ coupons are displayed on the main “browse offers” tab of the app. Clicking on the “locations” tab opens up a GPS map of Yellowknife with more than a dozen additional offers, including links to the businesses’ Facebook page and the distance of the business from the user.
One of the first companies to join Aurora Coupons was the Northern Sky 360 Dome cinema.
“(The owner) was very excited that the first time he put up the offers a lot of customers came to his business. There were $700 to $800 in sales just from coupons in February. And My World (children’s) Entertainment had a lot of coupons too. They were very happy with the platform.”
The owner of Savannah’s Family Restaurant texted Kassem on the first day its coupon went on the app and said many new customers had came into the eatery.
The placement of Inclusion NWT on the app helped raise money for its Bloomin’ Raffle program from May 14 to June 18 and “helped reach so many people so fast” as Kassem recalled organization spokesperson Daron Letts telling him.
The Aurora Coupons platform also hosts the #ShopNWT Scan 2 Win campaign supported by the NWT Chamber of Commerce. Customers scan the QR code on the Scan 2 Win site, fill out the registration form and then upload photos of their receipts from shopping at participating businesses.
Each point earned counts for $1, up to a maximum of $2,500 allowed in the #ShopNWT campaign.
Once a user’s points reach $500 they’re entered into the draw for one of six $1,000 gift cards or one “Ultimate Staycation Package” courtesy of the the Explorer Hotel.
The campaign wraps up on July 18 and winners will be drawn on July 23 on BuyNorth’s Facebook page.
Kassem plans to develop Aurora Coupons even further by making the program detect the language of the user’s phone so that tourists from China, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere can see offers in their own languages.
“I’m hoping that it will happen by the fall when tourism might pick up (again). And I will start making contacts with NWT Tourism and the City of Yellowknife to promote more offers. It’s important that tourists have information available in their languages,” he said.
He also hopes by fall to expand the program to other communities such as Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Inuvik.