Smartphone app connects local businesses, customers

Article Date:  March 4, 2015

Ahsen Basit has a simple enough goal. He wants to take over the world.

The fourth-year commerce student at Queen’s University has just premiered a new mobile app that allows businesses to better connect with local customers through their smartphones and, if all goes well, he is hoping the business will eventually go global.

He calls the app OPPROX, for Opportunities in Proximity.

It started on one of the regular Friday night brainstorming sessions he had with a buddy and business partner at his home in Mississauga.

“What is the next big idea?” they always wondered.

They noticed that some businesses were having trouble retaining new customers they had gained through local advertising and decided it was something worth tackling.

“We wanted to solve that problem for businesses,” Basit said.

OPPROX lets businesses appeal directly to people in the immediate area and retains them through reward points and special offers.

Customers can use the app to see what businesses are close to them and can benefit from the points and offers.

Reward points are nothing new, but they usually require the customer carry a card specific to that program. So if you are a member of multiple reward programs, your wallet is bulging with cards, Basit said.

“I didn’t like carrying multiple reward cards with me, so we solved that problem.”

His app doesn’t require a card at all. You simply present your smartphone at the business, it is scanned and the points are added to it.

OPPROX is free for customers to sign up. Businesses pay a monthly subscription.

Basit launched the app 10 days ago and already has just over 30 business signed up, most of them downtown, and more than 300 customers.

The app offers businesses in food, lifestyle, entertainment and health and wellness. You click on the option you want and it gives you the local businesses that are members.

“We are giving these businesses a way to get customers in proximity,” Basit said.

Each business is responsible for its own special offers and rewards, he explained. By offering special incentives, they are increasing the chance of bringing their customers back.

“Loyal customers mean better business. Loyal customers are your brand advocates,” Basit said. “If you make customers happy that are loyal, they will tell other people about your business.”

Some stores are also partnering with other members to create even more incentives, collaborating in their special offers.

“It’s an opportunity-based platform. We are trying to create economic opportunities.”

The app can also allow Basit to keep the businesses informed on just who their customers are and what they buy.

Basit has had a good response so far in selling his business to merchants, thanks to its simple design that can be used by all ages, he said.

“So far it hasn’t been that hard.”

He figured he has had a closing rate of 90%.

“Mobile is where the future is.”

Basit said it is common for commerce students at Queen’s to come up with new business ideas that they will try out locally.

The university promotes business development and entrepreneurship and focuses on local innovation, he added.

And having a student population take your business with them when they graduate is a great way to promote it.

“It’s an amazing networking opportunity,” Basit said.

And, as part of his plan for world domination, he recently auditioned for the television show Dragons’ Den, hoping for some high-powered backing for his endeavour.

Basit made his pitch in front of one of the show’s producers at an audition at the Ambassador Conference Resort a few days ago and felt it went well.

“They understood it in under two minutes because it was so simple,” he said.

The online offer of a free burrito may have helped.

Basit is hoping to get selected to appear on the show itself.

“I am pretty confident I am going to the Den,” he said.

There are no guarantees, “but I am 101% sure because I have seen worse ideas.”

Basit does have some competition in the field. Vicinity is also a rewards program, but Basit, not unexpectedly, believes his is better.

Some local businesses are using both systems.

Working on his new business meant Basit could only attend school part time, so he is coming back next year to finish his courses.

In the meantime, he is looking for entrepreneurs who can take his app and run a franchise in other small centres.

He would also like to hear from customers on what businesses they would like to see on his app and what special offers they should make. He can then lobby for them to be included.

“We want to make it two-way communication,” he said.