Vervaunt Black Card: Creating a Web3 VIP / Membership Proposition

21 December, 2022


Liam Quinn

Liam Quinn

Liam joined Vervaunt as a Solution Architect in March 2020, bringing with him a wealth of Shopify Plus and general technical knowledge and experience. Liam has been working in eCommerce for over 8 years and previously managed the development team at a leading Shopify Plus partner agency. Liam is focused on architecting technical solutions and also has a background of being a full-stack developer.

We’ve been looking at Web3 a lot this year, around real world use cases and making sense of what is hype, and what is genuine usable innovation. As part of our Pulse Ecommerce Summit ‘22 in November, we were keen to do something interesting and hands-on inline with the Web3 panel in order to provide a “learn by doing” experience.

The final outcome was the Vervaunt Black Card. In this article we’ll cover how that concept came about, the gap it was aiming to fill, who was involved in making it happen and how we did so.

The Goal & Ideation Phase

There had long been the outline of an idea discussed at Vervaunt, around the concept of a ‘Black Card’. Partly, this came down to it just being a cool idea that we enjoyed discussing the potential of. But mostly, with the boom of the NFT market (especially at that point in time) and the speed of innovations in the Web3 space, it felt like there was a good opportunity to at least explore something around a cross-brand membership scheme. An ecommerce version of Amex rewards.

While this idea was very much in the background, in the foreground we were planning for Vervaunt’s inaugural conference - the Pulse Ecommerce Summit ‘22. Web3 was on the agenda for the day, and so I was having conversations with a lot of new people that had experience and knowledge in the space. Andy Doyle (RadicalEcom) & Gary Carruthers (UWP) being two of these, and between us all, we agreed this could be the perfect time to get a working MVP off the ground and into people's hands on the day. The timeline was just about feasible, and with an agile approach we’d look to do something to give value to guests on the day such as free entry, drinks or merch. The v1.0 of Vervaunt Black Card was born.

“I've long been interested in Web3 technologies and their implications for ecommerce. NFTs in particular offer a whole host of solutions for brands looking to engage new audiences, enhance their loyalty programmes, generate new streams of income and more. This Black Card project was a way to demonstrate those opportunities to merchants and agencies alike in an uncomplicated, user-friendly way.” - Gary Carruthers

The Technical Approach & Architecture

As with any project, we approached this with some defined must-have requirements, and then a set of considerations that were uncovered in the early planning stages. These would impact how we would deliver, and the concrete timeline and requirements would be at the heart of each of the decisions.

Our requirements agreed for this piece of work were:

Tech comes second

While the primary purpose of this piece of work was to highlight an innovative new technology that maybe hasn’t been widely used, we couldn't rely on people just being interested in the tech. The success of this - as is true for the success of mainstream use of NFTs - is for the focus to be on the benefit to the user.

No fees

There was absolutely no compromise on the fact this could not involve a fee to the user. More to come on this, in relation to crypto and gas fees but it was an important discussion which influenced the eventual outcome.

Digital wallet

Likely to be a possible friction point, the digital wallet aspect had to be as flexible as possible. Ideally this would work for anyone already using a digital wallet, but to cover most bases of what people would have heard of and trust most, Metamask and Coinbase wallet were essential.

Minimise friction

The target audience we were aiming for was a room full of ~300 people with an expertise in ecommerce. With a mix of (majority) merchants, tech vendors and agencies, there was a good chance that a large percentage of the audience had not even read about NFTs, let alone have hands-on experience. So regardless of the concept, this had to be easy to use.

Ability to demo

Building on the last requirement, being easy to use wasn’t enough to be confident of uptake on the day. Whatever the concept, the ability for an end-to-end demo being held during the conference was key. Ideally, guests would demo between each other.

5 bullet rule

Extending on the above further, we needed the ability to summarise this concept in just five simple bullet points. This would mean printed collateral and/or landing page content on the website should be enough to explain how someone would get the NFT, how they would use it, and what they would get from the process.

Minimised development effort

More of a consideration than a requirement, but with time and development resources at a premium (thanks again to RadicalEcom and UWP for keeping momentum up on that side), there was a risk of over-engineering this MVP. It had to be kept simple with a small idea executed really well.

The Approach & Tech Stack

With these considerations and requirements set, a deliverable for v1.0 of the Vervaunt Black Card was agreed. The overall concept and tactics used to hit the goal were as follows:

The initial concept

The ultimate vision for the concept discussed within Vervaunt never really changed, and there is still a roadmap in the longer term to deliver what we think could be really game-changing. But given the requirements and hard deadline, it was important to reach a realistic deliverable.

So the concept was to release an NFT based membership card, which would be limited to 25 available (first come first serve). Holders of this membership card could connect their digital wallet to our ecom store and unlock access to claim just one of the 25 rewards. The rewards were the hook, so it was important that they were the exciting part of the process rather than the shiny underlying tech. We also wanted rewards to vary in value and prominence to create some hype and urgency.

The ecommerce platform and why we used Shopify Plus

Aside from briefly looking at Squarespace for a content site with gated content and simple buy functionality, utilising Shopify made perfect sense. It would be quick to get something up and running using a theme from the store, and give all of the out-of-the-box product and order management functionality needed. This would be launched onto a subdomain of the Vervaunt site - and no-indexed at this point given it starts as a temporary MVP.

As part of this store, there would be one product for the Black Card with 25x inventory. Then 25 individual products with a single inventory to be claimed, which would display an obvious out of stock label on the frontend when it had been claimed. On the frontend, we considered making the whole merch collection token gated but we decided that allowing everyone to see the products would drive more demand to get involved and claim something. So instead, everything would be visible but add to cart CTAs would be disabled until connecting a wallet which contains one of the 25 Black Card tokens.

Blockchain network selection

Similarly to ecommerce platforms, there are several different blockchain platforms which could be developed onto. More than several in fact, but some that are more well known would be Ethereum, Solano, polkadot - and the one we opted for, Polygon.

Some of the differences between these, and the considerations before opting for Polygon, are things like: complexity to work with, transaction speed, transaction fees, digital wallet support, security etc.

NFT management

The final piece and the biggest learning curve, was the part around distributing and minting each of the NFTs. In an act of agile project management, the plan for this did change shortly after some development started.

This initial plan was for each of the 25 Cards being added as a product in Shopify, and would each be listed on a Collection page. This meant that customers could select a specific number (if that happened to be of interest), and in theory each of the Black Cards could have been different in appearance and tied to a specific one of the rewards. When claimed, the minting and transfer to digital wallet was going to be a custom piece of development. However, during this process we’d discovered a newly released app on Shopify App store called Novel who had created a more robust and broadly tested way of handling the minting, distribution and tokengated content logic for the use of NFTs on Shopify.

The compromise was a change to a single product listing for the Black Card with a quantity of 25 - but this was certainly worth the change to avoid reinventing the wheel and focus our resources on testing and polishing as much as possible. The guys at Novel were great, and worked with us to test and take on some feedback we had to make changes themselves - so this is certainly an App to look out for in the space.

“I’d been involved in a few interesting projects through the year pushing the boundaries of what NFTs could be used for. The more we discussed this, it seemed like a chance to put together a really slick and streamlined way of real customers utilising the technology and to gain some good learnings.” - Andy Doyle

The User Journey

As per the requirements, ultimately we felt the success of this project was all going to come down to how simple we could make the process to use. The final outcome boiled down to the following five steps:

1) Simply visit to hit the newly created Shopify merch store.

2) Follow the clear CTAs to add a black card (if still available) to cart and checkout

blackcard howitworks

3) Receive order confirmation email, including unique code from Novel App, follow the link and enter the code as prompted to mint the card and transfer to your chosen digital wallet including Metamask or Coinbase wallet.

blackcard product

4) Navigate back to the black card store and browse the Pulse Ecommerce Summit ‘22 giveaway collection, which contains twenty five different items to be claimed by the card holders (first come first served).

5) Now holding a Black Card in your digital wallet and having it connected to the store, the ‘add to cart’ functionality will display - proceed to checkout with the ability of ordering just the single product.

blackcard gifts

UAT & Testing the Process

Because we’d kept the idea simple, there was (over)confidence in running through the testing plan without anything major coming to light. But there were a couple of points discovered in the days building up to the event though, that for a short time looked like potential showstoppers:

Validation codes by email

One area of this user journey that would ideally be improved upon next time, is that the whole process still ultimately relied on email. So after claiming a Black Card, an email with a verification code would be sent - which was used to validate and transfer the NFT to the user's digital wallet. During testing, we had a few issues where emails would not be sent, would go to junk or could take 5-10 minutes to come through. Any of these would possibly complicate and confuse the process for people on the day. Thankfully, we were able to work with the guys at Novel and improved this to be as efficient as possible.

Blockchain network issues

Another one that we were coming up against in the few days running up to the conference, was error notifications when claiming the Black Card, that the Blockchain network was too busy and to try again later. At one point, this was causing a 5+ hour delay in the Black Card being a usable token in the digital wallet which would be a disaster.

Eventually (the evening before the summit), we worked out this message was because of a limit being hit on gas fees (transaction fees applied to each time an action is recorded on the blockchain). One of the reasons Novel App was used, referring back to our requirements, is because we needed the Black Card to be free to claim - and gas fees are the main risk to that.

Novel could be used to absorb these fees, so that none would be passed onto the end user. However, we were connected to the “Testnet” blockchain network instead of “Mainnet” which essentially was like going live on Staging server instead of Production server and could only handle a tiny amount of transactions for testing purposes. After switching this, we were away.

End Results

We’d envisioned a stress free rollout which is always wishful thinking. But bearing in mind it was new tech, aimed at a reasonably large group of people to all try out at the same time - the delivery went pretty well overall. There was a lot of interest and people decided to try it out, and guests were doing this in groups to share knowledge if there was anyone struggling. It’s exactly as we hoped it might go, and as ever brought with it a couple of learnings that had not been considered.

The biggest issue on the day was the WiFi! The venue’s WiFi was scrappy to say the least, and did cause some issues with people getting through the process at the same time. It was frustrating, but wasn’t actually a hard blocker and made for a more competitive race for the best products!

The second was around demand, and in hindsight a schoolboy mistake from me in handling the NFTs. The plan from the start was to keep it small and exclusive, a limited run of 25 Black Cards available - and hopefully the demand would be higher with urgency to get one. This was the case, and all 25 were claimed in absolutely no time. However this limit was set on the NFT side, and after testing I had forgotten to set a limit on the Shopify side - so it never showed when the Black Cards were all gone. Unfortunately this resulted in an additional 50+ orders from the Shopify store that were oversold. Quite a common issue in ecommerce - but one that I personally had not needed to handle before! We sent out a couple of Deliveroo vouchers to help with the disappointment, and those extra fifty are top of the waiting list for the next release!

Having said that, there was so much intrigue and positive feedback that as an experimental MVP it was certainly worth the effort. Hopefully it led to people being hands on with technology which they wouldn’t have used before, the first time for many holding an NFT in a digital wallet. My main learning from a usage point of view is that the digital wallet piece is the main friction point preventing this technology being more mainstream. Everyone has now widely adopted the Apple Wallet, but unless that is extended to hold and use NFTs, there is always scepticism on why other wallets are needed, differences between them, and which can be trusted over others. But this is an area which will certainly continue to develop over coming months and years.

Real world applications

I’d previously written a bit of a prediction of which areas of ecommerce may be impacted with the mainstream adoption of NFTs and most of these still ring true. Reviewing how the usage of this Black Card went, it is clear the potential for some similar innovations to offer value in real world applications include:

  • Membership and VIP programs

  • Priority customer service

  • Multi-brand discounts

  • High demand live product launches

  • High value product ownership and authenticity

What’s next for the Black Card?

On the back of this launch, there will be more to come from the Black Card. The plan is to continue to use as VIP access to any promotions and events etc. But the longer term vision is to extend the functionality to become a cross-brand membership program, with usable gated content or offers across a range of brands based on being a holder of this one single token.

If you have any questions about our Black Card or how we used NFTs, then do contact me on LinkedIn.