Loyalty: an old-fashioned word in retail forever being reinvented. These days, it’s generally accepted that loyalty programs can help reign in customers and shape brand preferences. They're supposed to keep customers coming back, and with good reason—it is five to 10 times more expensive to find new customers than keep old ones, and repeat customers spend nearly 70% more than new ones.
In order to be successful, loyalty programs, which have proliferated and grown in the last year or so, should jive with a retailer’s brand and modern consumer's high (and getting higher) expectations. In many ways, they are now expecting loyalty from retailers as well.
Below are five ways retailers are keeping with consumer demands in the hope of establishing repeat customers.
Excellent customer service
Customer service is still most succinctly encapsulated in department store magnate Marshall Field’s two most famous sayings: “The customer is always right” and “Give the lady what she wants.” For many modern department stores and other retailers cutting back on their employee numbers and training though, the customer’s experience with some staff can often seem like an afterthought.
Yet a customer’s store experience could be considered the ground zero of any retailer’s loyalty program, with demands stemming from omni-channel retail strengthening this mandate. Retailers like Uniqlo — whose parent company’s CEO has made no bones about ambitions to grow it to the top clothing retailer in the world — and Apple are staking their success in large part on stellar customer service. Taking this route usually means buying into the idea that investing in better paid, more knowledgeable workers will ultimately pay off.
All-out, interactive social media
For a while, retailers viewed social media as static, an opportunity to set up a “page,” collect followers or “likes,” and advertise promotions like some kind of perma-Sunday circular. Even last fall, J.Crew got creative and offered its entire fall catalog on Pinterest, inviting tons of interest. But others have finally begun to leverage social media for what it’s made for: sharing.
Free People, for one, has won accolades for its standout use of Pinterest and its online “Free People Me” photo-sharing campaign. The retailer updates its Facebook page with characteristically beautiful ethereal photos and suggested outfits and videos. Like any retailer doing well on Facebook or Twitter, Free People keeps up with its comment sections and @replies at all times, responding and using those venues to help customers. Keeping social media efforts interactive invites important feedback from customers, making it essential in today’s retail environment where they expect to be heard. And social media helps a large retailer achieve another old-fashioned retail tenet: Know your customers.
Earning points on purchases is not a new idea, but retailers are spinning points into a whole new game — sometimes literally. As with social media, points are now more than ever about interaction and getting to know your customer.
Revenues from points-driven loyalty programs that reward customers for visits and purchases are also growing. But some studies are also showing that customers aren’t necessarily going to stay loyal on points alone. This is especially true when programs fail to appreciate a retailer’s best customers appropriately: When points payout is stingy, confusing, or brings rewards irrelevant to the customer; or when points expire too quickly.
Millennials are especially likely to value a company’s behavior outside of its products, and these 18-33 year olds are likely to only going to get pickier for two possible reasons: they're growing older and possibly wealthier as the economy picks up. But all consumers, of all generations, are increasingly paying closer attention to companies’ sustainability profile, devotion to human rights, and do-gooding efforts—and are willing to pay more for them.
Best personified by Amazon Prime, premium memberships give more of a country-club-like status than traditional loyalty programs, with perqs like free shipping. There’s no messing with points — members simply enjoy the benefits of their membership. For Amazon Prime, which is estimated to have hit 20 million members sometime last year, this includes free shipping on some items, some free e-books, and streaming entertainment. A Morningstar/Consumer Intelligence Research Partners LLC report last year estimated that the average Prime member spends $600 more annually, including the fee, than the average Amazon customer outside Prime. With its recent $20 per year increase, Amazon is mucking about somewhat with this magic. Still, no doubt retailers like Newegg, Shoprunner, and Sears are now also offering premium memberships to capture — and keep — regular customers who’ve invested their loyalty up front.
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