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Small operators can employ big ideas to gain customer loyalty

loyalty-data_teaserA customer is the most important asset to any retailer. However, the goal is to attain that customer’s loyalty, not just that customer’s transaction.

Sizeable marketing budgets have enabled big retail chains to run fast and furious with customer loyalty programs, but does that mean small operators and independents don’t have a chance to keep up in the race?

Not at all, according to several experts who shared with Convenience Store News their best loyalty program ideas geared for smaller operators in the c-store realm.

Here are their suggested tactics and best practices:


Phan Meduri, director of product management for Riversand, a data sciences research firm and data management solution provider, suggests that small operators follow the key tenets of the top-ranked 2018 loyalty programs (as named by Bond Insights). They include Speedway’s Speedy Rewards, Amazon Prime and the Kroger Fuel Program.

What these program have in common, Meduri explained, is that they focus on ease of use and quick rewards, namely:

  • An easy registration process —  they give a pre-generated loyalty number vs. a user-initiated registration process;
  • Transaction accumulation toward a reward — for example, a digitized punch card/free coffee for every 10 coffees purchased; and
  • The ability for customers to unlock rewards in quicker intervals.

“Providing reward redemption at shorter transaction limits helps in quicker acceptance of the program,” Meduri said. “Smaller retailers must also communicate frequently on deals and promotions exclusive to members.”


Small retailers should choose just one of the key loyalty tenets — recency, frequency or monetary — to design their loyalty program upon, according to Jenn McMillen, CEO of Incendio, a consulting firm that builds (and fixes) loyalty programs, including the architecture behind GameStop’s PowerUp Rewards program.

“Everyone wants everything, but a good program should be focused around one of the tenets to start,” McMillen told CSNews. “Do you want one more visit? One more incremental purchase? More visits in a shorter timeframe? Each of those things is a great goal, but best practices dictate that you choose one to start.”


Roi Kliper, CEO of City Hive, an e-commerce and data platform for the wine and spirits industry, believes the most important aspect of a small retailer’s loyalty plan is to be fair and honest. Kliper has a PhD in computational neuroscience.

“Your customers will see a fake loyalty plan from a mile away. If you are trying to pretend to give something, don’t,” he said. “Customers are smart. But that doesn’t mean a loyalty plan has to boil down to discounts or eroding margins.”

Good businesses know to reward their loyal clients with a personal touch, a better service level, and early or exclusive access to unique offers or events, said Kliper.

“The most successful ones manage to use their loyalty plan to build a community where members feel connected,” he added.

Some other loyalty tips from Kliper include:

  • Clubs are better to offer than subscriptions.
  • Cash is better than points.
  • Bother to know your customers.
  • Do not sell them a quantity discount, but rather a unique relationship. “Punch cards are so 1980s — even the digital ones,” he remarked.
  • Figure out what makes you unique and make that available for your customers at better conditions.
  • Measure the effect on your business.
  • Iterate — repeat these steps over and over again.

Originally posted at Convenience Store News. 

Customer experience key to loyalty programs

Loyalty-cards-360x426Is your loyalty program betraying you?

Perhaps, if that program is strictly transactional in nature (shoppers simply earn and burn points) and not capturing data to offer relevant, personalized experiences. In fact, marketers from two of Canada’s largest retailers–Sobeys and Canadian Tire–contend the term “loyalty” is misleading because a poorly executed strategy can have the opposite effect.

“There’s a general misconception that loyalty programs on their own drive loyalty,” said Shawn Bloom, vice-president, CRM and loyalty at Sobeys, during Retail Council of Canada’s Retail Marketing conference in Toronto April 18, 2019.

“It’s really about understanding customers and making them feel special. Loyalty results in great things–word of mouth, a willingness to pay a premium and a belief that your brand is trustworthy,” he said. “The reality is that loyalty really begins with the customer experience and you need to have great customer experience in order to have strong loyalty.”

A speedy checkout process and ensuring shelves are adequately stocked are a couple of ways grocers can build loyalty through exceptional customer service, said Bloom. He was part of a panel discussion–titled “Loyalty, Loyalty, Loyalty”–that included Shawn Stewart, vice-president, loyalty and customer insights at Canadian Tire, Rachel MacQueen, VP marketing at Air Miles and panel moderator Rob Shields, cofounder and COO at Paymi.

“The irony is we’re in a loyalty discussion, but loyalty may not matter,” said Stewart. “In year’s past, loyalty was a tool to engage the customer… But for us it’s identifying who our best customer is, and in today’s world with the enhancement of digital platforms—e-commerce, mobile app—if you have a killer digital experience you may not need a loyalty program to understand your customers.”

After identifying who those “best” customers are, it’s up to the retailer to deliver relevant and rewarding experiences. Canadian Tire, for instance, will send a technician to a customer’s home to change their car tires or reward them with tickets to a sporting event. Only then does loyalty become less about handing out points and more about curating experiences.

Bloom, who has been with Sobeys a little more than a year, said he was surprised to learn that even the grocer’s most loyal customers aren’t that loyal. Customers will split their baskets and go to one store for paper products and another for meat, he said. “Trying to capture that share of wallet is the challenge and the brands that will win are the ones who know their customers the best.”

Originally posted at Canadian Grocer. 

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