Cash back in East Lyme, Groton? There's an app for that

Many people have credit cards with cash-back incentives or take part in a program like Plenti, which partners with Rite Aid, Macy's, Mobil, AT&T and more. But Niantic couple Eric and Michele Dittner are trying to bring cash-back rewards to local small businesses.

They signed on last month — the day of Celebrate East Lyme — as account managers for WaBee, a cash-back app that Brandon Castaneda and Tom Dott founded in June in Philadelphia. The name stands for "We All Benefit Everyone Everyday."

"People don't want points," Eric Dittner said. "What they want is cash. Cash is still king."

In the last month, the Dittners have established partnerships with more than 20 businesses in East Lyme, Old Lyme, Groton, Mystic and Clinton. This includes Mystic Organics and More, A-1 Auto Center, Twist Yarn Shoppe, Centerbrook Pizza and Niantic Toy Shop.

Michele Dittner, a salon owner, said the app has more than 170 users already.

Along with southeastern Connecticut, WaBee has locations in Philadelphia, Detroit, Las Vegas, New Jersey and High Desert, Calif. Upon signing up on the free app, users can see the closest partners displayed in a list or map, and how much cash back each retailer is offering at the time. This might range from 5 to 20 percent.

Michele Dittner explained that businesses can choose how much to offer. If a business is having a slow day, she said, it might boost the percentage to try to draw in more people.

All a consumer has to do is scan his or her receipt to have cash-back points loaded into the app. When the account reaches $25 or more, the user can get the money via check or direct deposit.

By sharing the app, a user can get up to 1 percent cash back on purchases their friends make at participating merchants. Cash back for friends' purchases is 0.25 percent for sharing with 1-9 people, 0.5 percent for 10-29 people and 1 percent for 30 or more.

It's also beneficial to a participating business when a user shops at another participating business.

If a patron uses a referral code or scans a receipt for Smoochie Bird Gift Shop, for example, the gift shop will get 1 percent cash back when that patron then shops at other merchants that are on WaBee.

WaBee does not charge the merchant for a listing until a patron scans a product into the app, at which point a 5 percent fee is charged. In that regard, Eric Dittner described WaBee as advertising in reverse: Businesses get advertising on WaBee's app, website and social media accounts, but they're not charged unless someone buys something.

The Dittners were at The Bridge Market in Groton last week explaining the service to attendees at a Groton Business Association meeting.

GBA Steering Committee member Darrell Fox said that when he approached Bridge Market owner Karen Dole about hosting the meeting there, her response was, "Yes, I'll do it, but can you talk about WaBee?"

Dole knew Eric Dittner through his job as a Deep River Snacks distributor, as the company's chips are sold at her store. But despite their relationship, she was standoffish about WaBee at first.

Now, she's an advocate.

"The concept is excellent, and it doesn't require the business owner to do much, which is easy," she said.

The most popular places for the app so far, Michele Dittner said, are The Bridge Market and Chester's Barbecue. She and her husband hope to get as many businesses as they can on the app, and they're typically out five days a week trying to talk to business owners.

Michele Dittner said they are not making money off the app yet but are waiting for the long-term results.

"It's kind of a chicken and an egg, because when you start building the community, you need to work in a small area and build it," she said.


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