Reward programs and loyalty clubs are certainly nothing new in the world of retail. Sperry & Hutchinson introduced its stamp program, mainly used by grocers and gas stations, in 1896.
If you’re like most people, you never collected quite enough S&H green stamps to get the sailboat or other high value items, but when faced with the decision to buy groceries from a store that issued stamps or one that didn’t, you may have opted for the store that got you one step closer to the prize — or, at least gave you enough to get the toaster.
Nowadays, loyalty programs are so ubiquitous that cell phone apps like Key Ring have become popular to help people keep their keychains free of all those plastic club cards. But scannable bar codes are only one step in empowering the customer loyalty that is the desired end-game. Optimizing membership club success necessarily means being available where consumers shop, and we know that is everywhere in the omnichannel universe.
In a market where your most valuable customers are omnichannel, how integrated is your membership program?
Earning Points at every Touchpoint
Today’s customers expect to be able to earn points on their membership accounts regardless of what channel is used to make a purchase. Further, they demand ease of use. That means they will not type in membership numbers or go through other cumbersome login processes every time they convert online. Luckily, membership information is easily tied into user accounts on integrated CRM systems, which automatically links every login or other form of customer identification.
Ease of access is key across all channels because whether carrying around a bunch of membership cards or being forced to remember and enter login information, customers are quick to abandon processes that are inconvenient. Any system used to identify customers, from phone numbers to credit card swipes, should be directly linked to membership accounts to keep the process seamless. This requires omnichannel integration to keep account balances consistent regardless of where they are accessed.
Rewards That Matter
To build loyalty, frequent shopper rewards programs must offer benefits that speak to the desires of customers and are attainable. There is great flexibility to directly address what motivates customers, including discounts, cash back, increased service levels, or access to exclusive merchandise.
The nature of omnichannel retail provides new opportunities for rewarding loyal employees. For example, free or expedited shipping for customers that have passed certain thresholds is a popular option, as well as giving them access to or previews of exclusive merchandise before it is made available to others. For some sectors, it makes sense to institute club levels instead of individual rewards, providing escalating benefits for people at different levels (e.g, silver, gold, or platinum status).
Ease of Redemption
S&H probably never gave away too many sailboats because customers aren’t interested in saving for years to get a big prize. People are risk averse: From their perspectives, pirzes or programs could be discontinued, or even worse, you could declare bankruptcy and leave them with years of unclaimed rewards. Most people like to cash in often to hedge their bets.
Making redemption as easy as possible is a must. Anything less, and customers will assume it is purposely being made difficult to discourage them from collecting rewards. That means redemption on any channel at any time is ideal. Using cash back or store credit as an example, don’t set value benchmarks and force redemption in multiples of $25. If a customer wants to claim $5.71 in credit for a web order, allow that. Redemption should be as easy as shopping itself, enabled at any touchpoint as a seamless process.
In the expanding retail environment that offers more choices than ever before, the challenge of keeping customers loyal is accelerating. Membership programs can be effective catalysts, but only if designed and executed properly. Remember that the cost of keeping a happy customer is exponentially lower than attracting a new one, so it pays to invest in loyalty and make sure your retail technology platform can handle the perks that customers expect.
Zeke Hamdani is Director of Web Services for Celerant Technology