The old paper loyalty punch-cards have been widely upgraded to electronic loyalty programs. Taking off from the success of the Starbucks Gold loyalty program, a large number of these programs are now in the marketplace, including such national brands as Belly, FiveStars, Perka and Fishbowl, as well as many white label products. All tend to complement other promotional efforts, such as digital coupons and prepaid deals.
Most loyalty programs not only reward returning customers with free items after a certain number of visits and/or spending, but they also help SMBs recognize customers, and to take the personalized data from transactions to spur further engagement with customers via immediate feedback and reviews. The goal, clearly, is to make the SMB engagement with customers more like "Cheers" than "Minority Report."
An additional advantage of electronic loyalty programs is that the data can be used by SMBs to plan their marketing efforts. For instance, SMBs can use the loyalty data to determine which advertising and promotions efforts have proven to be most effective.
There are, obviously, costs associated with loyalty programs. They also take time to support. Moreover, some of the same “big data” might be achieved through other means, such as coupon redemption, mobile in-store programs such as Beacons or Wallets, or Point of Sales programs that have loyalty components.
The big question, then, is whether they not only result in “loyalty,” but more incremental spending by customers. Some companies have set a goal to gauge the success of their loyalty efforts. Whole Foods, for instance, says it will find its Whole Foods Loyalty 360 program successful if it boosts sales by 10 percent.
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