Retailers are cherry-picking a growing number of payment and technology providers in an effort to provide customers with the services they want.

Whether it’s offering customers financial services such as co-branded credit cards, or working with technology developers to create customer-facing apps, retailers are relying more heavily on partnerships with third parties than ever before, according to big name retailers speaking at the NRF conference in New York on Sunday.

Denise Incandela, former executive vice president and chief marketing officer at US department store chain Saks Fifth Avenue, said co-branded credit cards offer retailers huge opportunities to personalise promotions, while also boosting customer retention and acquisition rates.

But she warned “they’re not for every customer”. Retailer and supplier branded credit cards works best for “the most engaged customers”. She said: “It has a more narrow appeal but very deep engagement and tremendous benefits to the customer which they value,” she said.

Co-branded cards also give retailers the opportunity to mine the consumer data collected, which Incandela claims “is having a huge payoff” for Saks.

“It means we can get really personalised and targeted. It’s good for the customer as it’s much more relevant. When we personalise we see significant return enhancements.”

Walgreens’ assistant treasurer Dan Morrell pointed to the success of its recent successful link-up with Mastercard, whereby customers are offered a pre-paid bank card. Launched in November, the Balance Financial service provides a safe alternative to cash for customers without a traditional bank account or those who want alternatives to debit cards and checking accounts. Additional benefits include “earning incremental awards above and beyond normal customers”, according to Morrell.

Such services enable Walgreens to be “more relevant in customers’ lives” and offer better services, he claimed.

Morrell also revealed Walgreens’ mobile development team is “taking a more open approach” to app development so the retailer “stays relevant to the new consumer”.

This includes working with third party technology providers to offers apps such as the Refill by Scan app, which allows customers to scan their prescription label and choose a preferred location where they can pick up their refill. Members of the retailer’s Balance Rewards loyalty scheme – which has 74m active members – receive points when they use the app.

Loyalty programmes are “evolving”, agreed Incandela – “historically they were focused on points, they’re now adding additional benefits”.

“As well as [offering] free shipping and third party partnerships, Saks has been focused on having first access to sales and promotions,” she said.

Advancements in mobile devices are also aiding the development of loyalty schemes and enabling retailers to interact with customers on a more personal level, added Craig Vosburg from  Mastercard Worldwide. “We see the proliferation of mobile devices is fundamentally changing the way we transact and pick up business. The technology that’s embedded creates important opportunities to extend beyond payments to engage with consumers before and after transaction,” he said.