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Originally making a name as an innovative online bookstore, Ethiopian startup Shewaber has now transformed its business, unveiling a fresh concept in the local dining scene with its newly launched reward platform.

Taking the company in a novel direction, Shewaber Rewards is an app that gives users an enjoyable way to earn rewards at their favorite restaurants. The platform is designed to offer rewards in the form of coins, which can be redeemed for various activities such as mobile recharges and gift card purchases.

“Although reward program apps are new to Ethiopia, the concept has been indirectly adopted and has gained popularity through programs like Feres Miles and Sheba Miles,” said Eyuel Tesfaye, co-founder of Shewaber Rewards.

Reward apps, also known as loyalty or points apps, are a common type of mobile application designed to incentivize customer loyalty and frequent engagement. These apps work by offering customers rewards for specific actions or behaviors that benefit the company, such as making purchases, referring friends, sharing on social media, or simply signing up.

The Shewaber Reward System

The Shewaber Reward platform went live at the end of April 2023. On Shewaber, users earn coins by visiting participating restaurants and scanning their receipts after dining to earn coins. So far, Shewaber has onboarded six restaurants, including Divine Burger, Aroma Kitfo Pizza, and Elfegn Restaurant.

Utilizing computer vision, the Shewaber app scans receipts, extracting necessary information such as the restaurant’s name and the total spent to reward coins based on expenditure.

“Let’s say you spent roughly 50 birr on a macchiato at a participating restaurant. We have agreements with the restaurant that determine the number of coins customers should be rewarded. For this specific purchase, we might reward you 20 coins,” Eyuel told Shega.

“In the app, ten coins equal one birr. Over time, these coins accumulate in the user’s account. The more the user engages with participating restaurants, the more points they earn,” he added.

Once enough coins are amassed, users can redeem them for rewards. The company has established a clear conversion rate, with 100 coins equal to 10 Br. These coins can be used to earn rewards, including converting them into gift cards for meals or topping up mobile cards.

Virtual gift cards can be used for free meals at participating restaurants. On the app, users can scan receipts and opt to pay with coins. Doing so generates a QR code on the user’s app, which is then scanned by the vendor’s app at the restaurant to enable the transfer of coins.

Coins do not expire as long as the user remains active. If no activity is detected within 90 days, Shewaber issues a 30-day notice to the user before eliminating their coins. The platform also promises a swift redemption process, with rewards processed in less than 30 minutes after the user’s first five redeeming orders.

Business Model

Shewaber uses Affiliate Marketing as its business model. When users make purchases from these partners through the app, the app earns a commission on each sale, typically a percentage of the total sale price.

The startup has ambitious plans for its first year of operation, aiming to achieve 100,000 downloads and onboard 500 restaurants.

From Books to Rewards

The Shewaber online bookstore was launched in 2021 by three co-founders. The initial venture aimed to make Ethiopian books more accessible and affordable, offering over 2000 books in 13 different categories on its site. Despite initial enthusias, high operational costs, slim profit margins, and a limited market led the founders to reassess the bookstore venture’s viability.

Reflecting on the past, Eyuel emphasized the importance of addressing a challenging problem within a large market, one that the founders understand and are passionate about. The new direction of Shewaber aligns with these insights and is already demonstrating promising growth.

Eyuel teamed up with a new co-founder, Besufkad Menji, a programmer, for his innovative idea.

Shewaber currently has 2400 users. To attract new users, Shewaber is offering a generous welcome gift of +500 starter coins to everyone who registers on the platform.

However, Shewaber’s new venture isn’t without its challenges.

“Restaurants are very sensitive about anything related to receipts. It requires a lot of patience and explanation to convince them about our process,” said Eyuel.

Additionally, in its initial days of operation, the startup faced users trying to defraud the system with doctored receipts.

“This was a problem we anticipated. To combat this, every receipt we scan is cross-checked with the restaurant’s system the next day. This way, we can swiftly identify scammers,” Eyuel explained.

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Kaleab Girma, an Addis Ababa-based reporter and researcher, with over six years of experience in the field. He currently serves as Shega's Editor-in-Chief and specializes in reporting on small businesses, innovation, technology, and startups in Ethiopia.

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