Just Like the Old Days, Only Modern…

Steinbeis Research Center in Würzburg combines tradition with digital modernity to create “stämps”

The real benefits of digital transformation only come to bear when it adds value for people and society. Explorative Digitalization Solutions, a Steinbeis Research Center, has been working for a number of years on the development of value-adding applications in the fields of industry, medicine, and society in general. Its app – stämps – with its digital reward card is an excellent example of a traditional wooden stamp successfully married with state-of-the-art digitech.

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Reward cards have become an important element of classic customer loyalty programs – not just in Germany. Looking out for loyalty points is a social phenomenon that transcends many different cultures and age groups. It’s like an emotional vehicle, linking individual benefits with that commonly experienced desire to collect things – bringing together concepts that are both fun and commercial.

But this collecting instinct also poses a problem: With every new reward card, people’s wallets grow bigger. Having to continually reprint and store reward cards is also no longer in tune with modern times, especially when it comes to how we use resources. Last but not least, classic reward cards are easy to forge and very difficult to analyze when it comes to efficiency.

Building on this assessment, the Steinbeis Research Center for Explorative Digitalization Solutions has developed stämps, offering a completely new approach to reward cards without losing the appeal of traditional bonus stamps. In addition to managing all kinds of individually introduced reward cards in a clear and familiar-looking format, stämps massively augments the possibilities offered by analog cards. Importantly, it has retained the conventional concept of (physically) stamping cards.

As a result, there is no need for companies offering reward cards to adapt their loyalty programs. As before, bonus points are awarded through the stämps app, only this time using a wooden stamp held directly next to smartphones. This also means that users do not have to learn new processes or complex interactions; bonuses are awarded automatically in the background, without interrupting people going about their daily business. The stämps app thus upholds traditions by transforming analog reward cards into the future of digitech.

Strengthening digital customer contact with stamps

The stämps app also works as a loyalty tool. Providers of digital stämps reward cards can send notifications to customers in real time and place individual content on the backs of cards. Users are then kept informed in real time via push notifications. Likewise, vouchers can be sent to form an even closer bond with customers.

The stämps app also offers an integrated online store. This platform allows companies to offer products directly through a stämps store – to be picked up, delivered, or sent to the table of the customer. The app can also be linked to a variety of POS systems.

Last but not least, participating companies can also reward customers, for example by sending gifts in the form of free stamps or drinks. Aside from classic stamp cards, stämps also offers voucher cards that can be gradually redeemed on packages of products purchased in advance.

It is also possible to set up VIP cards. These are only accessible to selected customers and are not visible to everyone. Because stämps is easy to scale, it is not only a meaningful tool for conventional “over-the-counter” business. It also counts public utility companies, church communities, municipal authorities, and corporations among its customers.

Keeping an eye on everything

An important aspect of the stämps app is its range of comprehensive backend features. All participating companies can track online when and how often customers shop, at what time of day, and at what frequency. This makes the behavior of individual target groups extremely transparent and facilitates business planning. Importantly, stämps does not ask for, gather, or share personal data. For security reasons, all stamp data is thus only logged in one place under an installation ID.

So, why does it need a wooden stamp?

Digital processes are often highly complex. Many operations are automated and thus unseen, and this can unsettle users. With increasingly intricate levels of networking, potential sharing options are also expanding exponentially, resulting in new levels of complexity. The spotlight is increasingly being turned on users, precisely because digitech is becoming more and more central to all areas of life.

“With stämps, we form a visible link between the analog world and the potential offered by digital innovations. The wooden stamp is a bit like a symbol – like an icon of human history. The oldest stamps go back almost 3,000 years ago. They were lavishly adorned and originally used to stamp seals,” says Steinbeis Entrepreneur Professor Erich Schöls, explaining the appeal of the ancient – yet modern – medium. Even today, stamps play an important role in certifying official documents, and they are often used to record evidence or symbolize authenticity.

An important factor with stamps, however, is that they are user-friendly. Everyone knows how to use a stamp and even children are quick to learn how to share information by stamping something on paper. The stämps system avoids the complexity described above by returning digitech to everyday simplicity thanks to an interface that’s understandable to everyone, polite, and indicative of strong appreciation.

Analog process, the very latest technology

The stämps app is based on the very latest and most secure technology. The wooden stamp has been enhanced with a passive NFC sticker that requires no power source. This means that it’s impossible for the stamp to make unwanted remote connections by itself to other devices. Data can only be exchanged by coming into close contact with an NFC-enabled smartphone (Android 4.0 and higher, Apple iPhone 6 and higher). Unlike WiFi or Bluetooth, no pairing takes place so there is no risk of data being intercepted. This technology is used for many forms of digital transactions, with both credit and debit cards. Stamping with the stämps app is thus secure and compared to older apps – which often work with QR codes – it offers protection from known forms of transaction abuse.

The stämps system was launched at a challenging time but has succeeded in becoming established, despite the pandemic. Within two and a half years it has expanded rapidly and is now even being used in Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, and Thailand. The program has already been downloaded more than 40,000 times through app stores, and in excess of 150,000 stamps have already been awarded.


Prof. Erich Schöls (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Research Center: Explorative Digitalization Solutions (Würzburg)

Sebastian Gläser (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Research Center: Explorative Digitalization Solutions (Würzburg)

Dr. Markus Thies (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Research Center: Explorative Digitalization Solutions (Würzburg)

Manuel Michel (author)
Steinbeis Research Center: Design and Systems (Würzburg)