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A frequency shopping program organized by a Cincinnati bank is proving so successful locally it's likely to expand to other markets.

Shoppers who sign up for Provident Bank's MeritValu program get discount credits of 1% to 15% when their purchase is recorded using a special credit card terminal. Cardholders then can use the credits for future purchases at any participating retailer.

Consumers sign up for the card at participating retailers including supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, and local businesses and services. People can also sign up by phone or Internet (http://www.


Besides building sales volume, retailers get data they can use in developing their own loyalty or database marketing programs. These data include demographic profiles of card users and store-by-store lists of best customers, said Provident VP David Engel.

Provident developed MeritValu primarily as a way to boost its credit card processing business, which uses the same card-reading terminals, Mr. Engel said.

Retailers pay for the discounts, plus transaction processing fees and any costs to convert existing equipment. Through the first five months, the program drove $16 million in retail sales with 545,000 transactions. More than 47,000 active cardholders are estimated to be using the program.

The bank is backing the rollout with a $400,000 TV, radio and outdoor campaign from Mann Bukvic Gatch Partners. Advertising has proved crucial.

"We thought it was a very simple concept and product," Mr. Engel said, "but getting that through to the consumer has not been such a simple process."

MeritValu is two-thirds toward its goal for active cardholders and halfway to its goal for transaction volume, he said.

Ultimately, Provident wants to expand the program regionally, then nationally; talks are under way to bring the program to Miami and other Florida markets.

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