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Loyalty programs · 

8 minutes

Cormac O'SullivanPiggy

Retail Loyalty Programs: Tips, Types & Noteworthy Examples

In the fiercely competitive retail landscape, retaining customers and motivating repeat purchases are paramount for sustainable growth. One potent tool that has helped retailers achieve this is retail loyalty programs. A well-designed loyalty program keeps customers engaged, increases their lifetime value, and boosts your bottom line.

What are Retail Loyalty Programs?

Retail loyalty programs are structured marketing strategies designed by retailers to incentivize customers to continue shopping or avail services from their store or website. The key purpose of such programs is to reward loyal customers, encourage repeat purchases, and foster a long-lasting relationship with customers. These rewards can take various forms such as discounts, free products, exclusive deals, or early access to new collections.

How Retail Loyalty Programs Work

Retail loyalty programs work by creating a value-based exchange between the retailer and the customer. Usually, customers earn points or receive benefits in exchange for certain behaviors such as making a purchase, referring friends, or even engaging with the brand on social media platforms. These points can then be redeemed for rewards, stimulating the customers to repeat the rewarded behavior, which, in turn, fosters loyalty.

The Types of Loyalty Programs in Retail

There are several types of retail loyalty programs, and choosing the right one depends largely on your business model, customer behavior, and market positioning:

1. Points-Based Programs

The most common type of loyalty program, points-based programs, reward customers with points for every purchase. Once a certain number of points are accumulated, they can be redeemed for discounts, goods, or services.

2. Tiered Programs

In a tiered loyalty program, customers unlock new benefits as they reach higher levels of spending or activity. This structure not only rewards frequent purchases but also encourages customers to strive for the next tier of benefits.

3. Paid Loyalty Programs

Popularized by Amazon Prime, paid loyalty programs offer customers exclusive benefits in exchange for a membership fee. These benefits often include free shipping, early access to new products, and priority customer service.

4. Partnerships Programs

In partnership programs, retailers team up with other brands or companies to offer shared rewards. This expands the value proposition to customers and can help attract a broader audience.

5. Charitable Programs

Some retailers opt to align their loyalty program with their corporate social responsibility efforts. In such programs, purchases or points can translate into contributions to a cause or charity.

10 Examples of the Best Retail Loyalty Programs

The effectiveness of a retail loyalty program lies in its design, appeal, and how well it matches customer expectations. Let's take a closer look at some of the best examples in the retail industry that offer rewarding loyalty programs.

1. Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime is a classic example of a paid loyalty program that offers a wealth of benefits including free two-day shipping, exclusive deals, streaming entertainment services, and more. This diverse array of offerings has helped Amazon amass over 200 million Prime members worldwide.

2. Sephora’s Beauty Insider Program

Sephora’s Beauty Insider program uses a points-per-purchase model, where customers earn points on every dollar spent. These points can be exchanged for rewards. The tiered system encourages more spending, with higher tiers unlocking more benefits, including free shipping and exclusive events.

3. Starbucks Rewards

Starbucks Rewards uses a simple, app-based program where customers earn stars for every dollar spent. These stars can be redeemed for free drinks and food. Members also enjoy mobile ordering and free in-store refills.

4. Nordstrom’s Nordy Club

The Nordy Club from Nordstrom is a tiered loyalty program where customers earn points per dollar spent. Higher tiers enjoy benefits like priority access to style events, alterations credit, and exclusive access to beauty and style workshops.

5. The Body Shop’s Love Your Body Club

The Love Your Body Club offers a point per dollar spent, with rewards issued for every 100 points. Members also enjoy birthday gifts, exclusive invites, and special offers.

6. REI Co-op

REI's unique approach involves a one-time membership fee. This grants members access to dividends based on their yearly purchases, special offers, and discounts on REI's outdoor experiences.

7. DSW's VIP Program

DSW's VIP program is tiered and allows members to earn points on every purchase, with bonus points opportunities, a birthday gift, and free shipping for all members. Higher tiers unlock benefits such as faster point accumulation and early access to exclusive offers.

8. Best Buy’s My Best Buy

This free program allows customers to earn points for every dollar spent. Points can be redeemed for Best Buy reward certificates. Members also get exclusive member deals and early access to sales.

9. Ulta’s Ultamate Rewards

Ulta's program offers points per dollar spent with no cap on how many points members can earn. Points are redeemable for any product. The program also features a birthday gift, and premium members receive extra perks like free shipping and salon services.

10. Nike Membership

Nike Membership provides free shipping, birthday rewards, early access to new releases, and exclusive content about training and wellness. It's a strong example of a free membership program that provides experiential rewards.

The Role of Loyalty Programs in Retail

Retail loyalty programs play a critical role in shaping the customer experience and driving profitability.

Boosting Customer Retention

One of the key advantages of loyalty programs is their ability to increase customer retention. Retaining existing customers is significantly cheaper than acquiring new ones. According to a study by Bain & Company, increasing customer retention by just 5% can lead to a 25% to 95% increase in profits (source).

Enhancing Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

Loyalty programs incentivize customers to make more frequent and larger purchases, thereby increasing the total net profit a company makes from any given customer.

Gathering Customer Data

Loyalty programs also provide an avenue for retailers to gather valuable customer data. This data can be used to personalize offerings, predict future buying behavior, and enhance overall customer service.

Building Brand Loyalty

Lastly, loyalty programs help to deepen the relationship between customers and the brand. By providing valuable rewards, you make customers feel valued and appreciated, thereby fostering brand loyalty.

20 Reward Ideas for Retail Loyalty Programs

Looking for ways to enhance your loyalty program? Here are twenty reward ideas to get you started:

  • Discounts on Purchases: The classic reward, a certain percentage off future purchases, is always a hit with customers.

  • Free Products: Customers love getting something for nothing. Offering a free product after a certain number of purchases can be a great incentive.

  • Early Access to New Products: Letting loyalty program members shop new collections before anyone else gives them a sense of exclusivity.

  • Members-Only Events: Organize special shopping events or workshops only for loyalty program members.

  • Free Shipping: If you have an online store, free shipping can be a powerful incentive.

  • Double Points Days: Encourage more frequent shopping by offering double or even triple points on certain days.

  • Gifts on Special Occasions: Show your customers you care by sending a small gift on their birthday or anniversary.

  • Exclusive Content: Offer members access to exclusive online content like webinars, tutorials, or behind-the-scenes videos.

  • Charitable Donations: Allow customers to convert points into donations to a charity of their choice.

  • Invites to Product Launch Events: Make your customers feel like VIPs by inviting them to exclusive product launch events.

  • Partner Discounts: If you have partnerships with other brands, offer discounts on their products and services.

  • VIP Customer Service: Offering priority customer service can make members feel valued and respected.

  • Loyalty Card: A physical loyalty card can often make the customer feel like part of an exclusive club.

  • Referral Bonuses: Reward customers for bringing in new customers.

  • Points for Reviews or Feedback: Incentivize customers to leave feedback or reviews with extra points.

  • Social Media Bonuses: Offer points for actions on social media, such as sharing a post or tagging your brand.

  • Tier-Based Perks: As customers progress through the tiers of your program, offer them enhanced perks.

  • Fitness or Health Rewards: For health and wellness brands, offering fitness or health-related rewards can be a great fit.

  • Redeem Points for Branded Merchandise: Let customers show their love for your brand by offering branded merchandise as a redemption option.

  • Seasonal or Holiday Bonuses: Seasonal events or holidays can be an excellent opportunity to offer bonus points or unique rewards.

10 Steps to Setting Up a Retail Loyalty Program

Setting up a successful retail loyalty program involves careful planning and execution. Here are ten steps to help you get started:

Step 1: Define Your Goals

What do you hope to achieve with your loyalty program? Whether it's increasing customer retention, boosting sales, or gathering customer data, having clear goals will guide your program design.

Step 2: Know Your Customers

Understanding your customers is key to creating a loyalty program that resonates with them. Research their preferences, needs, and shopping habits to inform your program structure and rewards.

Step 3: Choose a Loyalty Program Type

As discussed earlier, there are several types of loyalty programs. Choose the one that best aligns with your brand and target customers.

Step 4: Decide on the Reward Structure

What will customers gain from participating in your loyalty program? The right rewards can significantly enhance program engagement. Consider both tangible rewards like discounts or free products and experiential rewards like early access or exclusive events.

Step 5: Create a Simple and Straightforward Program

Complicated programs can deter customers. Keep your program rules simple, transparent, and easy to understand. Make sure the process of earning and redeeming rewards is straightforward.

Step 6: Leverage Technology

Use technology to make your loyalty program more accessible and user-friendly. Consider a mobile app or integrate your program with your online store. Technology can also help you track customer data and program performance.

Step 7: Promote Your Loyalty Program

Use various marketing channels - from in-store signage to email marketing and social media - to promote your loyalty program and get customers excited about it.

Step 8: Train Your Staff

Your employees play a crucial role in promoting your loyalty program and assisting customers. Provide them with adequate training about how the program works and its benefits.

Step 9: Monitor Your Program Performance

Regularly track and analyze program performance to understand what's working and what needs improvement. Look at metrics like program participation, customer retention, purchase frequency, average order value, etc.

Step 10: Keep Innovating

Don't set and forget your loyalty program. Regularly refresh your rewards and engage with your customers to keep the program exciting and relevant.


Retail loyalty programs are a powerful tool for retailers to boost customer loyalty and drive sales. With the right structure, enticing rewards, and effective promotion, you can create a loyalty program that not only attracts customers but also turns them into loyal brand advocates. So why wait? Start planning your retail loyalty program today and unlock the numerous benefits it offers!

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