Have you ever ordered an NFT with your takeout? Well, Wow Bao may just let you do that—kind of. The brand, which mainly spreads through “dark kitchens” and third-party delivery services, plans to connect its rewards program to Web3, which is the third iteration of the world wide web. Web3 is different from past versions of the internet; information is decentralized on Web3, and its applications run on blockchains or decentralized “peer-to-peer networks,” according to Investopedia. Buying NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, from Wow Bao allows users to buy into the brand, which can redefine what “loyalty” means, especially in the digital arena.

Rewards and loyalty programs have been a necessary part of the quick-service industry for a long time. Most recently, mobile apps that house these platform (versus the punch cards of old) have been the common iteration, and for good reason. In November, the top 10 quick-service restaurant apps were downloaded 11.4 million times. Year-over-year in November, downloads of the top 36 apps were up 18.6 percent. In December, Starbucks launched a beta version of its own NFT rewards experience labeled “Starbucks Odyssey.” The coffee giant already has a hugely successful loyalty base through its mobile offering—it was downloaded 1.4 million times in November alone—and plans to allow users to collect “stamps” (NFTs) after completing interactive experiences, or “journeys,” through Starbucks Odyssey.

Wow Bao—known for its quick Asian street food and over 700 dark kitchen footprint nationwide—has also played into that traditional loyalty, launching its initial rewards program in May 2022 through Paytronix. That program is for customers who order third-party delivery through the brand’s website. For every dollar spent, the customer gets a point. Once the user earns 100, $7 in “Bao Bucks” are added to their account, which then can be used as money off their order.

Because the program directs users to Wow Bao’s website in order to access the rewards program, the brand is able to own its customer data, Geoff Alexander, CEO of Wow Bao, says. “Wowbao.com is powered by DoorDash storefront, which is still marketplace ordering,” he says. “But because the orders come through our website, we are able to own the customer data as opposed to the third-party delivery platforms, owning the customer data so we can have better demographic information.”

In order to join in on the Web3 extension of the Bao Bucks program when it launches, users will purchase an NFT-based access pass. There will be three tiers of passes that unlock increasing levels of different rewards for the customer. Unlike some other NFTs, where a crypto wallet is needed for purchase, customers can purchase one from Wow Bao with a credit card. Alexander says people have shown interest in the program. “Our hope is that early Q1 to start minting—and to be building that community,” he says.

Alexander says the goal in adding NFTs and Web3 into the Bao Bucks setup is to transform it from a rewards to a loyalty program. Because most of the brand’s locations are “dark kitchens,” he says the loyalty aspect can get lost. “​​I don’t call it a loyalty program because loyalty is really where you know the people where you’re going and they know you,” he says. “With third party delivery you don’t really have that loyalty, you don’t have that interaction.” Adding this dimension is a way for users to feel more connected to the brand.

One drawback of using Web3 and NFTs is that there is still a long way to go in terms of public awareness and knowledge about the technology. Many people are not aware of what goes into the platform and how to use it. Wow Bao is ready to take education into its hands once it launches its program, however. “I think education is always going be part of the Web3 space,” Alexander says. “There’s too many people out there who don’t understand what it is, and I think it’s still evolving, so there’s always going to be an education factor.”

Building that aforementioned community is going to be a key part of educating people, he says. “I think that our job is going to be to grow that community, and in order to grow the community, we need to educate, we need to create content, we need to create fun,” Alexander says. The community the company is building will also help Wow Bao evolve in new ways, such as helping to choose new flavors or giving direct feedback on the brand, a level of engagement that is usually missing in the third-party delivery space.

Adopting new technology early in the game is part of Wow Bao’s brand, and the framework of the company. Alexander says the fast casual was using self-ordering kiosks in 2010—now, they are everywhere. The “dark kitchen” concept that uses other restaurants’ kitchens and third-party delivery is also gaining more and more popularity. Wow Bao is planning on putting its hot food vending machines in the metaverse in 2023 as well, allowing customers to use them from their homes, and get food sent right to their door. Alexander says being at the forefront of new technology is important. “You have to evolve and you have to innovate, that’s part of our DNA— it’s always been right for us,” he says. “Part of our brand is to be early adopters of technology, and by being those early adopters you can learn quickly and be forgiven because it’s new.”

Fast Casual, Growth, Marketing & Promotions, Operations, Story, Technology, Wow Bao