Ins and Outs of Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs can drive revenue and result in actionable insights.  Done properly, a loyalty program can foster customer retention, increase share of wallet, and drive incremental visits and purchases.  It can also provide valuable intelligence into customer behavior to help target promotions.

The currency of the loyalty program can vary.  Financial loyalty programs often offer preferred services based on tiers tied to the amount of your assets or investments with them.  Credit cards typically offer points based on purchases but the Discover Card gives cash back for example.  Shaw’s grocery stores and CVS drug stores offer discounted pricing on selected items, similar to coupons.  Airlines offer miles that can be redeemed for future airplane tickets.  Some retailers offer reward certificates after reaching a certain number of points.  For example, customers receive a $10 reward certificate at A.C. Moore after earning 200 points.

The goal of any loyalty program is to drive a specific behavior, typically purchasing goods and services or investing money.  Thus the program is structured to encourage incremental spend and increased share of wallet.  The program might award double points for purchases of $100 or more, causing you to splurge on your next purchase.  Alternatively, you might receive better service from a financial services firm if they hold all your assets because of the threshold amounts needed to attain various tiers.  Multi-tiered programs that airlines and financial services firms have accomplish this by providing additional benefits with each additional tier attained.

Loyalty programs must provide value to both the customer and the business.  Thus, the loyalty program must provide something to the customer that she believes is valuable but that is not too costly for the business to provide.  Not all customers will redeem their rewards and some rewards cost nothing so assessing the profitability of the program requires more than a back of the envelope calculation.  The trade-off must be considered carefully.  Make the reward too easy to attain and you may put at risk the profitability of the program.  If you make the reward too difficult to attain, customers may sign up initially and then drop out.   I have seen customers splurge to achieve the first reward certificate but they do not sustain that level of engagement afterward.  The program did not sufficiently incentivize certificate redeemers.

Lastly, you must also be careful that you have considered possible unintended consequences.  For example, it may be loyalty members are only buying discounted or low margin items in order to earn a reward certificate.  Once they receive their reward certificate, they may spend just enough money to redeem the certificate and no more.  Alternatively, cashiers might be scanning in their own loyalty cards or a dummy card when customers do not have a card or do not have their card with them.  Your loyalty program might be rewarding unprofitable customers or non-loyalty customers.