Microsoft's Bing Loyalty Scheme Keeps It in the Family

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Microsoft's new Bing user rewards scheme launches (in Beta) today, cunningly dubbed Bing Rewards. It fills the space left by two earlier, now-retired loyalty plans. But Microsoft takes loyalty seriously—shunning users of Google, Firefox, and Apple.

The premise of Bing Rewards is much the same as a loyalty card scheme from your favorite airline or supermarket. Your supermarket wants to entice you through its doors, and also to promote particular products or service. For airlines, the mission is simpler—they are trying to get you to fly with them on particular journeys rather than a rival airline. Essentially, Microsoft's mission is the same: to get you to use its search engine rather than a rival one.

Microsoft's terms and conditions are very tightly defined—you have to install the Bing search bar, you have to use Bing to search to qualify for rewards, and you must sign in with a Windows Live ID. Microsoft benefits from tagging your search efforts against your ID (by using your data to refine how its engine operates, and trying to figure out how best to sell targeted advertising at you.)

To earn Bing Rewards (such as products, points toward your XBox-Live account or charity donations) you have to amass Bing points. You get those for signing up, for setting your browser default search to Bing, for trying out new Bing features when they become available, or simply searching: A number of searches qualifies as one point. But you have to be doing all of the above on a Windows machine, and only using Internet Explorer. There's no chance to use Safari, Firefox, Chrome, or even Opera—all other browsers are shut out.

Is this Microsoft returning to the bad old monopoly days of strong-arming its competition? Not really (Mac users are unlikely to forgo their machines for rewards), but you could certainly be forgiven for thinking so. In reality, it's about trying to optimize Bing in the only environment Microsoft can control—Explorer and Windows.

Bing Rewards has been built on earlier, less-successful Microsoft rewards schemes like CashBack and SearchPerks, and has been carefully constructed not to upset consumers or foist unnecessary services on them. Instead it's all about trying to boost user buy-in, and coax, tease or seduce them away from their automatic Google habits.

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