Growth rates in online retail are slowing down. Successful brands are increasing customer loyalty and per customer spend by focusing on membership programmes.
Zalando has just announced its loyalty programme Zalando Plus as one of their key initiatives for 2019, and Amazon Prime has been present in every other US household in 2018. The concept of loyalty programmes, however, is not new. Premium department store Breuninger in Germany launched its loyalty programme as far back as 1959. The original aim was to allow customers to buy on credit, which later evolved into a loyalty programme with different tiers and benefits. As one would expect, today’s card is no longer in paper but integrated into a shopping app.
Reward and Focus on Your Most Valued Customers
The goal of having a loyalty programme is to better serve and focus on the most valued customers. Amazon Prime members spend USD 500 more per year compared to non-prime customers. And there is good reason for Net-a-Porter to invite the top-spending 2% of their customers into the EIP (Extremely Important Person) programme, as they account for more than 40% of sales and shop on average 12x more than the average customer. Focussing on those 2% of customers and increasing their buying frequency by just 3% would lead to an increase of 1.2% in the overall net sales of the business.
The Journey from Acquisition to Retention
Providing incentives such as free shipping or free alterations can be a strong tool in acquiring more members into a customer loyalty programme. Keeping members engaged after the first transaction or sign-up is often more challenging. Leading marketing or ‘growth hacking’ teams know when to reconnect with new members with the goal to drive engagement, which at a later stage can lead to the second sale transaction.
Tiering Members is Key
While all customer loyalty or membership programmes are using some sort of tiering, a brand needs to decide whether to openly tier and thereby create the feeling of exclusivity to the customer. One advantage of this approach is the ability to nudge members to move up to the next level, for example by the means of monthly point statements or by informing members how close they are to reaching the next tier and thereby stimulating additional sales. However, traditional tiering is typically based on annual spend per customer, which does not take ‘share of wallet’ into account. A better metric is customer lifetime value (CLV), which incorporates expected future spend and potential.
Paid Memberships are Strong Loyalty Drivers
A powerful way of keeping a loyal customer is to convince her to pay for membership in the customer loyalty programme. Multi-brand and product stores are at an advantage here, as customers can leverage the fee over a higher number of transactions.
The average active Zalando customer, for example, orders 4.4 times per year and is charged EUR 7.90 for premium or same day delivery per order (read here for a detailed review of the benefits of same day delivery options). A Zalando Plus membership at an annual fee of EUR 15 includes free premium or same day delivery, among other benefits, which makes it an attractive offer for frequent shoppers.
Most importantly, the incentive for members to shop with a different online retailer decreases, as the cost for the same premium services would be very high for just a single transaction. As a result, Zalando management expects their membership programme to be key in increasing the gross merchandise value per customer spend by approximately 20-25% in 2019.
Opportunity to Focus on Value Rather Than Discount
While product discounts and rebates dominate the most-valued rewards for loyalty club members, it is worth noting that millennials place a higher value on service, experience and customer recognition.
This is especially interesting for premium brands aiming to use their loyalty programme to increase the brand value perception of the consumer. Nike, for example, offers their NikePlus members access to member-exclusive products. Net-a-Porter allow their EIP members to shop new collections earlier than everyone else and offer them a personal shopper. Online supermarket Albert Heijn Online provides its loyalty club members a personalised dashboard that suggests healthier substitutes for previously purchased products, which can have significant positive impact on personal health.
Having worked with a client on a project in Retail/Health Tech in China last year, I’m convinced that the trend to personal health and well-being is one of the strongest drivers for loyalty, but comes at very high level of complexity for brands.
For brands with a smaller budget, a more focused approach on the key value perception drivers for the customer can be an option. Cycling wear brand Rapha, for example, has created a cycling club with frequent member bike rides and services tailored to the needs of race bikers in large metropolitan areas. The focus of the stores (called ‘Rapha Club Houses’) is to provide the best member experience, featuring racing bikes for loan and a café. They become places for the member community to connect after organised bike rides, which start and end at Rapha Club Houses. The selling area dedicated to cycling merchandise in store is surprisingly small.
Drive Your Member Strategy Now
With many brands already having a customer loyalty or membership programme in place, 2019 will be the year to evaluate the impact on customer experience and lifetime value. To start, brands should measure ROI and engagement across the channels. An end-to-end calculation, including supply-chain and/or labour cost, is especially relevant when calculating the ROI for lower margin brands or product groups. The second step is to calculate customer lifetime value (CLV) per member and start segmentation to budget future marketing spend. For many brands this can mean a shift from member acquisition to retention and increasing spend per member.
Driving customer experience for the most valued members requires having the same top-level standards across all customer touchpoints, from front-end to operations to last mile delivery or stores. Setting up a matrix membership team structure with experience beyond just marketing but also in store operations, supply-chain, merchandising and finance can be a powerful way of driving this end-to-end experience across digital and retail channels.
About the Author:
Maximilian Gellert gets excited about transforming a range of digital options into pragmatic every-day solutions for retailers. Combining consulting experience with industry functions in premium apparel and online grocery, he supports retailers and etailers in their digital challenges and last mile innovation. Get in touch with Max via email or connect with him on LinkedIn to discuss your own plans for a membership programme and other challenges related to customer loyalty.