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We’ve come a long way from the negative and misleading image of rewards programs only being for low-income consumers. I know millionaire investors who make sure they use their air miles and take advantage of the punch cards and point systems at local mom-and-pop cafes. The traditional approach of building a brand and a loyal customer base is being replaced by rewards programs, which disproportionately benefit bigger spenders. The more these consumers spend, the more they get back — setting up a virtuous cycle for both buyer and seller.
In our survey of over 50,000 consumers, only 3% said they would stay loyal to their top brand if a competitor offered cashback or points incentives. The explosion of the number of products at marginal price differentials on retail platforms helps explain this dramatic shift. With so many transactions taking place online, consumers are being swayed by the best deals, the best reviews and the best rewards.
Rewards build up over time, so the purpose of these programs is to create an ongoing relationship with customers, especially those who spend the most. It’s a simple equation: Offering them the most value ensures they remain the most loyal. Brand equity may not be dead, but it is being redefined by the need to reward repeat customers in this more complex operating environment.
Related: How Brands Can Turn Short-Term Rewards Into Long-Term Loyalty
Reward programs are everywhere
From your local juice shop offering a free beverage after collecting 10 stamps to the major players such as Amazon Prime and Target Circle, rewards programs are ubiquitous and public awareness is high. Almost 80% of people in our survey said they were familiar with apps and websites that offered purchase rewards. According to software company Oracle, 72% of consumers belong to at least one loyalty program.
While reviews undeniably wield considerable influence over consumer choices, it’s evident that spending habits are increasingly pivoting around the strategic redemption of reward points. For instance, when Discover Card designates certain vendors offering additional points for a limited period, consumers are spurred to intensify their spending at these locations. Such strategic initiatives benefit consumers with bonus points and stimulate the entire ecosystem, creating a win-win scenario for all parties involved.
Brand loyalty is also being informed by the preferred rewards of consumers, with two studies divided over the No. 1 category: Capgemini says 69% of consumers prefer cashback above all other rewards, while Merkle found that 79% of respondents preferred discounts. The constant is that everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated for their loyalty.
What works best for you?
There are two types of loyalty programs: Your own hosted program and an externally hosted program that offers a rewards ecosystem. No matter which you choose, you don’t need to have an enterprise business.
A hosted program can vary from business to business, but it’s likely the type you are most familiar with. You spend enough money or make enough purchases at a business and are rewarded with a free item or something similar from the same business. Almost every small business now has punch cards or a point system that rewards us when we return regularly — whether it be your local coffee shop or the restaurant down the street.
Alternatively, I am seeing growth in external loyalty programs that allow brands to reach new customers and reward them for sticking around. These programs can be broken down into two more categories: One that partners with individual industries or market segments, such as Ibotta’s hosted rewards program that offers rebates in grocery and retail, and the other that operates across the entire consumer landscape.
I call the second type of program a “unified provider.” This type of rewards program is evolving in unique ways as mobile apps allow people to be rewarded based on where and when they are spending across varying stores and brands and accumulate rewards.
Related: 3 Types of Reward Programs Every Retail Brand Should Know About
Going further than games
The surge in mobile usage over the last decade has unlocked vast potential for these unified reward platforms. My company aims to become the primary channel for consumers to amass rewards from diverse spending avenues. Initially focusing on mobile gaming, we plan to extend into other sectors like fuel, groceries and other areas consumers wish to be rewarded in.
One of the key benefits of a unified provider lies in its cumulative nature. This allows consumers to garner more points than they ever could through multiple independent programs. The more consumers spend across diverse categories, the more rewards they accrue, creating higher value for the unified provider. In turn, the provider can afford to share more rewards with the customer, ensuring they stay engaged with various vendors. In essence, this creates a virtuous circle where all parties involved come out winners.
Do your homework
The arena of gaming for rewards and mobile rewards programs is relatively uncharted. Understandably, people harbor skepticism about earning gift cards simply for playing a game — it seems too good to be true! This newness and a dynamic marketplace indicate a clear need for brands to do their homework thoroughly before venturing into these emerging rewards ecosystems.
If you want your business to use an externally hosted reward program, know that the market can be volatile. New providers often spring up only to vanish just as swiftly if they fail to strike a balance that benefits all stakeholders. Reliable resources are crucial for gathering insights and making informed decisions. Major contributors to the app install ecosystem regularly publish performance indexes of leading publishers. These indexes often include information about players in the rewarded engagement field, making them valuable starting points for verifying potential partners.
Related: Dunkin’ Donuts Customers Express Fury Online at Pricier Rewards Program
The narrative of consumerism has pivoted; it’s no longer just about brand loyalty. The innovative rewards program landscape, from local businesses to global corporations, is expanding, evolving and firmly establishing its presence. And it’s not just about choice or variety.
Repeat customers generate around 65% of a company’s revenue, underlining the vital role of rewards programs in customer retention, sustainable business growth, and market differentiation. They’ve become much more than just a trend; rewards programs are an essential strategic instrument in today’s consumer market. Brands that recognize this shift and harness the power of rewards will thrive in this dynamic environment, enhancing their consumer relationships and, ultimately, their bottom line.