1: A method of buying and selling using club memberships as a basis for buyers to receive discounts on purchases of products offered by sellers through at least one of a computer system, the Internet, e-mail, electronic data interchange (EDI), television, telephone, facsimile (fax), catalogs, magazines, newspapers, coupons, and mailings and additionally at in-store locations, wherein the products comprise either goods or services, the method comprising:
- making a plurality of discounted product offers from the sellers available to the buyers by integrating, mostly in real-time, an Internet online channel of purchasing with real-world offline channels of purchasing;
- wherein, a very large initial number of buyers, given free multi-month temporary club memberships and later offered permanent club memberships that have annual fees, can be selected by credit card and debit card issuing banks and associations from their lists of cardholders, providing sellers with a proven buyer audience to whom to market and advertise their discounted products;
- wherein, such a large initial membership is only possible due to the major initial amalgamation of corporate entities providing the required development, integration, implementation and supporting services for the concept;
- wherein, being a truly neutral universal platform providing an open and fair marketing, advertising and selling venue to provide product discounts to buyers, supporting marketplace competition by retailers, manufacturers, financial institutions, communication entities, and other adjunct service offering organizations, bringing together on one major Internet shopping site portal multiple individual sites and services; and
- providing the club memberships and associated membership cards of the buyers to provide access to the integrated channels and the discounted product offers from the sellers;
- characterized in that:
- the buyers who are club members have access to a club Internet web site that allows the club members to access the discounted product offers, including incentives like instant or periodic rewards, loyalty offerings or cash back credit applied toward purchases, on individual seller discount pages from the sellers directly linked through seller logos and seller names either generally or by product category to the club Internet web site without the buyers having to visit a multitude of seller sites separately and locate the individual seller discount pages from within information included on the seller sites, to increase Internet online sales while driving in-store offline sales,
- wherein, the sellers can market, advertise and sell their discounted products to the buyers via the club Internet web site for the most part free, as there are no listing charges, no per click charges, no keyword charges, no cost per action charges and no percentage of final sale charges, for the club revenue is substantially derived from buyer-paid memberships, not seller-paid advertising; and
- wherein, the sellers have access to an unparalleled buyer interest and shopping tracking venue, from a buyer viewing a product on the club Internet web site to that same buyer then purchasing that particular product in a brick-and-mortar store location, through the use of the buyer's club membership number.
2: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that:
- in response to viewing at least one of the discounted product offers from the sellers participating on the club Internet web site, the buyers can choose to make purchases online using—respective—buyer discount club membership card authorizations and identifying numbers along with payment instruments following secure buying procedures including optional benefits of free shipping when provided by the shippers or picking up purchased products at store locations, or at bonded warehouse/distribution centers, or use club member Internet site product discount information as shopping planning guide information, go to physical store locations of the sellers to make the purchases offline based upon the discounted product offers as advertised online, and immediately take the purchased products or have the purchased products shipped, free when provided by the shippers, due to size, weight or other considerations;
- transmitting seller product discount data electronically from the Internet to points of sale at seller checkout registers in the physical store locations;
- wherein, at the physical store locations, the buyers by using universal club membership cards accepted by the participating sellers, which are magnetic strip authorized and bar coded by scanning or using pass or mobile technology, to access the transmitted seller product discount data electronically, and wherein the seller product and discount data pertaining to the purchased products is automatically indicated on buyers' register receipts of purchase and compiled into separate individual buyer's activity reports for club members showing each buying activity along with running totals of purchases and the discount savings by day, month and year to date so the buyer can compare the actual savings with the annual club membership fee amount;
- wherein, while on the Internet club members can purchase products worldwide directly from retailers, the club members can also purchase products worldwide directly from manufacturers, bypassing the retailers, and have items shipped directly, free or at a cost as offered by the individual manufacturers, or the members can pick up items at individual manufacturers' outlets or at specific bonded warehouses or distribution centers storing individual or multiple manufacturers' products; and
- stored in memory on and separate from the Internet host system is the overall club Internet site information including individual seller Internet discount product information along with individual member buyer Internet club site viewing information and Internet online and in-store offline as well as telephone product purchase information allowing the complete tracking of these activities for participating sellers to address, in an informed manner, marketing and advertising effectiveness and subsequent advertising budgeting requirements.
3: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that the club memberships are multi-tier allowing for different product types to be discounted differently in dependence upon the club memberships, and additionally characterized in that each successive higher tier offers additional product types to be discounted along with—respective—discounted product types that are offered by the tiers below the successive higher tiers.
4: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that while the membership cards can be considered to be universal discount cards by offering access to discounting by a plurality of the sellers, the membership cards are not intended to be replacements for individual seller in-store discount cards but rather are additional to and intended to work in concert with the in-store discount cards.
5: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that the buyers can be credited for discounted products at the physical store locations of the sellers in a combined manual and automatic method not requiring integration of multiple level discounting software into host systems of the sellers by using separate product discount sheets with bar codes to be scanned, by using coupons or by individual manual entry of product discount amounts.
6: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that the discounted product offers by the sellers to the buyers can be indicated to be valid only at specific times including at least one of on specific dates and during time periods selected from the group consisting of never-ending time periods, monthly time periods, weekly time periods daily time periods and hourly time periods.
7: The method of claim 1, further characterized as a new marketing and advertising communication venue for sellers to attract the necessarily very large club membership audience of buyers drawn through the selection of a brand named club and grow multi-channel purchasing by offering special product discounted money and time saving opportunities for the buyers and thereby expanding marketing and payment roles for financial institution card services bringing online and offline communications and sales together with the financial elements and by providing a venue_to rate and/or comment on professional and amateur produced ad and haul videos as well as on individual discount product offerings;
- wherein, club members can partake in a forum or social networking venue aspect addressing participating sellers' marketing, advertising and selling offerings while giving sellers an opportunity to gage the effectiveness of their approaches;
- wherein, club members can rate, comment and make suggestions relative to individual sellers' products, brands, videos and service along with occasionally receiving special rewards directly for a submittal or via a drawing for specific prizes when offered by the club and the sellers; and
- wherein, club members can create personnel membership profiles to be used while addressing online club activities.
8: The method of claim 1, further characterized that while the club membership card is intended as a discount access card only, not a payment card, the combining of both discount and payment on one card can be an option.
9: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that the manner of payments for products is flexible and can be made by credit card (with or without rewards), debit card (with or without rewards), individual seller (merchant) card (with or without rewards), gift card, check card, check, money order or cash.
10: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that purchases can be for the full amount, monthly payments until paid in full or layaway, being sent or picked up when paid in full.
11: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that products can be purchased as individual products, more than one of a product, combined or component products, out-of-stock products or waitlist products, and in that products purchased on the Internet can be shipped, shipped free when provided by the_sellers or picked up at physical store locations.
12: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that along with the branded name of the club itself, individual financial institutions can be identified as the issuers of the club membership cards with their name and logo appearing on the face of the cards;
- wherein, having the club membership cards bank or association name branded dually markets both the club and the individual bank or association;
- wherein, the initial temporary club cards can be distributed by the club free to the banks and associations, the total cards to each individual entity being based upon the card issuing institutions' percent of total market share of active credit cards and debit cards;
- wherein, in addition to club participation expanding the use of bank and association credit cards and debit cards, the individual banks and associations can offer additional individual credit card and debit card use incentives to buyers when paying for purchases with their name branded cards and also when a buyer uses a club card with the same bank name as the credit card or debit card at the time of purchase; and
- wherein, the club can pay these card issuing institutions a percentage of the annual club membership fees for the banks' and associations' marketing of the club.
13: The method of claim 1, further characterized in that while the name of the individual club member can appear_on an initial free temporary card, the name of the individual club member would appear on the face of the permanent paid membership card, which can be renewed annually for a fee, along with the member number and other identifying information and data.
14: A club membership product discounting system in which sellers market, advertise and sell discount product offers to buyers for purchase through an integration of online and offline channels, the system comprising:
- means for hosting, managing and operating a club membership Internet web site on which the sellers can market and advertise the discount product offers to the buyers through links to discount pages from at least one of seller logos and seller names;
- means for sellers to feature professional and amateur produced ad and haul videos including individual discount product offerings.
- means for buyer club members to rate and comment on sellers, sellers' brands, sellers' products, sellers' videos and sellers' service, and can, in some instances, receive rewards or win prizes in periodic drawings for such submittals from sellers or the club;
- means for indicating additional important temporal product information at the seller logos prior to receiving commands from the buyers to link to the discount pages;
- means for allowing the sellers to add, remove and revise data on the discount pages associated with the sellers;
- means for linking to main web sites of the sellers from the discount pages;
- means for allowing the buyers to purchase discounted products online securely; and
- means for transmitting discounted product data electronically from the hosting means to seller in-store checkout registers.
15: The club membership product discounting system of claim 14, being further characterized by:
- first means for allowing in-store use of club membership cards that each include a magnetic strip as an authorization identifier when the card is swiped electronically at times of purchase;
- second means for allowing the in-store use of the club membership cards including a bar code to activate a discount product tier automatically when scanned electronically before, during or after the other product bar code scanning or amount entering at checkout prior to the final total for the purchase;
- means that seller offered club membership discounts on items purchased are automatically entered electronically via the in-store host system at the checkout registers, appearing on the buyers register receipt;
- means that the club membership cards can incorporate smart card chip technology;
- means that the club membership cards can incorporate pass card technology; and
- means that the club memberships can incorporate mobile technology.
16: The club membership product discounting system of claim 14, wherein the point of sale in-store host systems at the registers of sellers through the implementation of an integrated software program can accommodate additional levels of discounting over and above the single level free seller discounts as offered by individual in-store discount cards.
17: The club membership product discounting system of claim 14, wherein the multiple level discount software programs can be integrated with in-store systems remotely on a batch basis throughout the entire system or systems for all store locations in the operation of a seller, remotely but on an individual store basis or at the actual store locations.
18: The club membership product discounting system of claim 14, wherein multi-tier club membership levels are recognized electronically to offer additional types of discounted products than lesser tier club memberships along with the discount product offerings of the lesser tier club memberships.
19: The club membership product discounting system of claim 14, wherein the overall club Internet site information including individual seller Internet discount product information along with individual member buyer Internet club site viewing information and Internet online and in-store offline as well as telephone product purchase information allowing the complete tracking of these activities for participating sellers to address in an informed manner, marketing and advertising effectiveness and subsequent advertising budgeting requirements is stored in memory on and separate from the Internet host system.
20: The club membership product discounting system of claim 14, wherein individual seller product discount page data and data revisions are stored within individual seller computer systems with communication interfaces to the Internet, and wherein in-store back room operations of host systems offering one level of free in-store discounts through the use of individual in-store discount cards can operate in a similar manner but on additional levels interfacing electronically with the Internet product discounts they offer to buyers on the club membership web site.