How to Build a Successful Loyalty Program for Your eCommerce Store

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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How to Build a Successful Loyalty Program for Your eCommerce Store

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Companies continue to join the club, adding loyalty programs in an effort to improve customer retention. There’s good reason for that. The average number of loyalty programs a consumer is enrolled in has grown to more than 14. That’s up from 11 memberships in 2014.

Papa Johns reward program

Hoping to benefit from that consumer desire, brands are pushing big into loyalty. 56% of brands automatically enroll consumers into loyalty programs the moment they sign up for a customer account.

eCommerce brands recognize the benefits of rewarding customers to improve the lifetime value (LTV) of customers; however, the data shows plenty of brands struggle with creating and maintaining programs that keep customers engaged.

For example:

  • 56% of shoppers have abandoned or altered a purchase when they realized their reward points had expired.
  • 82% of consumers will switch stores to take advantage of competitor promotions.
  • 79% of consumers admit that brands need to demonstrate that they actually understand and care about the customer before they’ll continue with a purchase.

Common Reward Program Issues

That last one is the most interesting. More than 2/3 of customers want to know that your brand cares. They want a personalized experience that builds an actual relationship with your brand. With consumer enrollment in loyalty programs soaring, they have more reason than ever to connect with a competitor.

But it’s going to take more than handing out points to keep them. You need to meet their expectations through the entire customer journey and build a loyalty program that’s about more than the freebie.

When Loyalty Programs Are Done Successfully

It’s not uncommon for growth-focused startups to focus on acquiring new customers. If you grow your audience and get more traffic to your online store, your conversion rate will hold and equate to more sales—right?

In theory, that’s true, but your new customers aren’t spending as much, and they cost more to acquire. In fact, it costs 10x more to acquire new customers than sell to existing customers. Not to mention, on average, your existing customers spend 67% more than a new customer.

This infographic from Antavo breaks down the benefits of a well-implemented loyalty program.

Wjhat is a loyalty program

Here are the components you should consider for a successful loyalty program that keeps customers coming back while also scoring you new customers.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 1

Build loyalty by rewarding customers before the sale.

Reciprocal loyalty is something every eCommerce business should strive for. It’s a simple and straightforward concept: Give to the customer first, and they’ll give in return.

But it’s not always in the form of reward points. What can you do before the customer signs up for your loyalty program or makes a purchase?

One of the most important parts of your loyalty program is how you get customers to sign up.

Macys site breakdown

There are a number of other ways you can build loyalty before the sale, such as:

  • Working to streamline the user experience on your website, making navigation and checkout easier. (See above screenshot of Macy’s.)
  • Developing ways to be proactive with customer service, such as prompting invitations to chat with a representative.
  • Shoring up the initial step toward a conversion with trust signals like social proof and testimonials in your eCommerce store.
  • Implementing ways to thank the customer while they are in your funnel but have yet to make a purchase.
  • Rewarding every action. Only 35% of brands reward customers for non-transactional engagement. As many as 85% of brand loyalty programs have no reward in place for registering and completing a customer profile.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 2

Tie feedback into your loyalty program.

Actively listening to customers is the backbone of marketing. It’s an essential part of product and marketing research, and for building buyer personas. In order to create (and improve on) a loyalty program, you need to listen to customers and adjust course to show them you care.

Therefore, you must tie feedback into your loyalty program.

Add rewards for non-transactional engagements like completing surveys and providing feedback to your brand. You can get consumer feedback on any aspect of your business you like, but don’t ignore the opportunity to find out how they want to be rewarded.

Customer loyalty questions

This research can help you understand customer expectations to craft a program built on what they value most. Also, proactively engage with your customers to solicit feedback. Don’t rely on loyalty program metrics and transaction reports to gauge the effectiveness of your program.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 3

Use feedback to offer unique rewards.

Free items have long been used for rewards, but some research suggests that just giving freebies may not be the best idea for rewarding your customers.

In his book Influence: Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University published that people have a tendency to place greater value on items when they are more expensive or costlier to procure.

Subsequently, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology points to consumers placing more value on things based on the investment of money or effort to acquire.

Rather than trying to move customers to action with “free stuff,” find other ways to reward customers and enhance loyalty.

Predator nutrition rewards screenshot

Pad out your loyalty program to include exclusive access to things like:

  • Unique and exclusive experiences
  • VIP access
  • Limited digital content
  • Sweepstakes

Knowing what to offer will be easy when you lean on the feedback from your audience. While items may very well be free as a result of a loyalty reward, you’re creating a structure with rewards that are seen as more valuable than just getting a free product.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 4

Tailor the rewards to customer segments.

Any brand can give away free products to reward loyalty. You want to avoid the mistake of giving away rewards just for the sake of giving rewards. Not only should you have a goal in mind with your rewards, the rewards should have intrinsic value.

Tailor your rewards to your specific type of customer.

Look at the following grab from an infographic segmenting online music fans. If you examine each segment, you’ll see where each could be attracted by very different loyalty rewards.

Segment related rewards

Don’t lump all your customers together. The most attractive rewards will be tailored not only to your audience but to individual audience segments.

Sony Rewards is a perfect example of this. The brand has customers from all walks of life purchasing various Sony products. Their rewards catalog is expansive, providing not only tiered rewards, but a great deal of variety to appeal to their customers.

Cinephiles can get their movie fix with their rewards.

Sony rewards program

Or music, electronics, and even video games.

Playstation rewards

Give your customers the freedom to select their rewards, but offer something tailored to different buyer personas or audience segments.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 5

Use points, but keep it simple.

Reward points are the most common approach to building a loyalty program. The concept is simple enough. Your customers earn reward points, and those translate into some type of reward. In many cases, the points have monetary value and can be used like cash in eCommerce stores.

Effective in theory, but where companies sabotage their own program is by making the program far more complex than it needs to be, or by using confusing language.

For example, “A $10 purchase gets you 350 points. 750 points are equal to $20% off your next purchase in the month of April, or use it now to get 50% off select items, which you should do because 200 of your points expire in 8 days …”

Or they have multi-step processes in place just to get a reward.

Simple points based reward system

That can turn a reward program into a headache when your customers have to puzzle out how to earn and spend their points. 57% of customers don’t typically know their point balance, and 38% aren’t aware of their points value.

You need to keep the point conversion simple if you opt for a point-based loyalty program. Then focus on how to motivate your customers to take action.

Fogg behavior model

All it takes is knowing your customers and what motivates them. If something is easy to do, even with minimal motivation, it doesn’t take much to drive your customer to action.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 6

Build a tiered loyalty program.

A loyalty ladder or tiered reward system is a great way to offer immediate rewards to new customers while enticing them to purchase more with greater rewards. These types of rewards are typically seen in the travel and hospitality industry, such as this rewards tier for IHG Rewards Club.

Tiered loyalty program

They can still work just as well for eCommerce, depending on the frequency of customer purchases and the average order value of a sale. At the same time, a program like this can encourage them to spend more, or spend more often.

The main difference between a simple points-based program and a tiered program is that your customers are able to gain value immediately, offering an immediate boost to loyalty. From there, you can build your tiered rewards to improve relationships and improve retention.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 7

Decide what actions trigger rewards.

The primary goal of any loyalty program is to get the customer to make additional purchases in your eCommerce store. That shouldn’t be your only goal, though.

You want to sincerely reward the customer for engaging with you and growing your relationship. Part of creating a successful loyalty program is deciding how you’ll reward your customers.

UGG rewards customers a number of ways for activities they’re likely already doing.

Ugg rewards

Look to non-transactional engagements and how you can reward them:

  • Account registration
  • Newsletter sign-ups
  • Participating in activities (gamification)
  • Leaving reviews
  • Completing a survey
  • Sharing a product or post on social media

Brands that reward non-transactional engagement have experienced nearly 50% more site visits, 13% longer time-on-site, and a 5% decrease in bounce rates.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 8

Set up partner offers as part of your loyalty program.

Your customers have more needs beyond the solutions provided by your products. People lead complex, busy lives, with all kinds of daily worries and headaches.

A smart way to ramp up the value in your loyalty program, and greatly improve customer retention, is to set up partner offers among your rewards.

Hallmark card rewards

By working with other brands, you can expand the value of your rewards to better meet their needs. Customers are far more likely to return to your online store and spend money when there is a greater benefit among any other brands they favor. It’s a spectacular way to delight your customers.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 9

Create simple rules that favor the customer.

Rules are a necessary part of any loyalty program. They’re designed to protect your brand from those who would abuse the system.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming every customer is out to take from you, though. If your rules are too restrictive, such as with frequently expiring points, you’ll have a hard time winning the loyalty of your audience.

Focus on creating a few sensible rules that are enough to cover you. You may not need the extensive rules that a brand like Best Buy uses.

Best buy terms

When you are creating rules, do it with the needs of your audience in mind. Remember the simplest and least complex rewards programs are the most successful. The same applies to your rules.

Build a Successful Loyalty Program Tips 10

Support your acquisition needs with a referral program.

A good loyalty program can dramatically improve customer retention, and it can also reduce the cost of new customer acquisition. Offer a reward to your loyal customers for referring friends and family.

Harry’s uses a tiered referral program to build loyalty and repeat business.

Harrys referral program

Not only will this encourage repeat transactions, but it will bring you new business as well.

The above campaign used by Harry’s generated over 100,000 email address in less than a week.

Consider that 92% of customers trust referrals from people they know, over brand advertising, and they’re 4x more likely to buy when referred by a friend.

If the idea of giving away a portion of your revenue makes you cringe, then look to the things most valuable to your customer and find other ways to reward them.

Dropbox has used this model successfully for years.  With very little spent on advertising, Dropbox has grown tremendously because of its referral program. The company knew what its customers wanted most (storage space) so it gave away extra storage space for referral sign-ups. It was effective, too.

Dropbox referral program

Dropbox gained 4 million new users in just 15 months with that campaign.

Granted, they’re not an eCommerce brand, but the same type of program can be tailored and applied to your business to acquire new customers—like unlocking free or expedited shipping for an allotted amount of time after a referral makes a purchase.


Once you establish your reward program, the work has just begun. You must continue to monitor, analyze, and revise that program as you listen to feedback from your audience.

Most importantly, a loyalty program is just a tool. To improve customer retention and the success of loyalty programs, your eCommerce brand must strive to make better connections and build stronger relationships.

Customer Retention Quote

Satisfaction and loyalty mean nothing when there is a relationship disconnect. That disconnect is why up to 80% of satisfied customers still don’t return to make another purchase.

Use the tips above to build a blueprint for an effective loyalty program, and be sure to include ways to maximize the engagement experience with your audience to reinforce those relationships.

Does your eCommerce store use a loyalty program for improving customer retention? What kind of success do you see from it?



How to Build a Successful Loyalty Program for Your eCommerce Store

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