Loyalty Programs: The New Pillar For Next-Gen Customer Engagement

Following the global shakeups caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 found the business world hyper-focused on innovation. According to a report by Celerity, “63% of leaders stated that Covid-19 made their organizations embrace digital transformation sooner than they had expected and were making greater investments in technology as a result.” 

Loyalty programs are among the technologies that have seen an increase in adoption due to this newfound focus on digital transformation. MarketsandMarkets forecasts that the global loyalty management market size will grow from $8.6 billion in 2021 to $18.2 billion in 2026. Considering the emerging value of the loyalty management industry, it’s pivotal to understand the underlying trends so that companies can build a relevant and successful concept for their program. Because just like the business world in general, loyalty programs have also been affected by the pandemic. 

My company, Antavo, recently surveyed over 320 corporate respondents from all regions of the world and analyzed the data from over 25 million member actions tracked via our platform. We published the Global Customer Loyalty Report 2022, which allows us to see through the eyes of loyalty program owners and to identify important trends not just for loyalty programs but also for post-Covid-19 customer retention in general. 

Redefined Engagement, Tiers And Technology

After examining companies’ motivation behind running (or planning) a loyalty program, we found out that “increasing customer engagement’’ ranked first, indicating that companies wish to use loyalty programs as more than an incentive to generate more sales, and they are actively seeking ways to have more touchpoints with customers. Customer sentiment backs up the assumption that it’s worth focusing on engagement: According to Gallup, “Customers who are fully engaged represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth over the average customer.” 

As for the engagement itself, loyalty programs offer a wide range of options: gamification, badges, tiers, birthday surprises, early access privileges — and the list goes on. Tiers, in particular, were proven to be popular. Still, consider doing more than just the default three groups (bronze, silver, gold tiers). For instance, consider adding a VIP tier that requires annual buy-in by spending loyalty points. Also, offering early access to sales events and new product drops is an excellent high-tier reward. 

The Importance Of Performance Tracking

Loyalty programs helped keep customers engaged during Covid-19, but does this actually result in a positive ROI for companies? High-profile examples, such as Amazon Prime or Starbucks Rewards, demonstrate that loyalty programs can be — and are — profitable. However, it’s hard to draw a conclusion for the majority of loyalty programs. In our report, only 32.8% of respondents offering a loyalty program reported that their organization measures the ROI of loyalty. Interestingly enough, 93.1% of those who do measure ROI indicated they had a positive ROI. If anything, this data should provide strong motivation for loyalty program owners to start tracking their program’s performance. 

Of course, this presents its own conundrum: What metrics need to be tracked to consider a loyalty program successful? Recurring revenue and customer lifetime value are seemingly obvious answers, but ROI isn’t the only indicator of good performance. Being able to increase the number of participants and refine the segmentation using loyalty data collected from members is also a sign of success, just like the number of active referrals or the activity rate on social media. In the end, it all comes down to what KPIs each brand wishes to pursue. 

Shifting Toward A More Emotional Loyalty Model

With digital transformation in full swing across the globe, businesses have more channels to reach their customers than ever before. However, the question of how to build loyalty is just as important as where to build loyalty. 

To put it simply, in an age where customers have access to a huge selection of web shops and retailers, a brand has to catch customers by the heart, and not the wallet, because discounts are now less effective than rewards that have an emotional component to them. According to Capgemini, “86% of consumers with high emotional engagement say they always think of the brands they are loyal to when they need something, and 82% always buy the brand when they need something.” 

But what are business leaders thinking about emotional loyalty? In our survey, only 20.7% of existing program owners classified their program as more emotional than rational, while 53.6% of companies in the process of launching or relaunching their program specified that their program would be more emotional than rational, signaling that in the future, much more loyalty programs will focus on generating emotional loyalty. 

It’s worth highlighting that emotional loyalty isn’t a zero-sum game. You can still have transactional elements, like coupons and collection in your loyalty program — just remember to add a couple of features and rewards that emphasize emotional attachment. For example, provide invitations to member-only events celebrating the anniversary of your brand, privileges that make the shopping journey smoother, such as private concierge and dedicated customer support, or input opportunities for product and service development.

In Conclusion

To sum it all up, the world of loyalty programs is changing behind the scenes at worldwide organizations that prioritize customer loyalty. So businesses that wish to capture the attention of customers should adapt their strategies to focus on engagement, tiered program structures and emotional loyalty. 

This article was written by Zsuzsa Kecsmar from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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Dima Volovik

EVP of Product and Engineering

Dima Volovik is the EVP of Product and Engineering at Trax Retail — Shopkick.

Dima Volovik is the accomplished product and engineering leader who led teams to deliver innovative and commercially successful e-commerce products, marketplaces, and enterprise solutions for Amazon, Comcast, Fandango, and Universal Music. Before joining Trax, Dima was the Director at Amazon, where he led product development and Engineering for Amazon Appstore and Amazon Prime Video, CTO at Fandango, and Paciolan, head of technology at Golf Channel/Golf Now, and Global VP of Direct to Consumer Technology at Universal Music Group. Dima’s expertise includes developing consumer products, marketplaces, and enterprise solutions.

Dima grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he received his MS in Electrical Engineering from Azerbaijan Oil Academy, and he currently resides in Los Angeles, California, with his family.