Winter 2014
Thank You, Come Again By Lynn Switanowski Barrett

Your customers are driven by a constant need to be informed, entertained and offered perks and rewards for shopping. How then do you make meaningful connections and build long-term loyalty?

While independent retailers like you have traditionally had the advantage of a one-on one relationship with customers, in the ever-growing world of social media, even big brands are now able to connect on a very personal level with every customer by tracking data, shopping habits and most important, offering personal rewards that speak directly to their needs.

How can you respond to these changes? The savvy independent retailer understands that every customer must be appropriately courted and thanked after every transaction and that the smallest purchase can no longer be taken for granted. A customized loyalty card program is one potential solution.

Simply put, a loyalty card program is a way for retailers to create a long-term marketing effort that provides offers, rewards and incentives to repeat customers who continue to return and make purchases on a consistent basis. This repeated loyalty drives consistent sales and often creates word-of-mouth marketing from the well-rewarded customer.

The out-of-pocket costs can vary based on the offer provided, but certainly can be built into any business model as a marketing cost for which every store—new or old—should have a budget.

The whys

There are several key reasons why a loyalty program might work for your store.

First and foremost, it’s a way for you to say thank you – in ways both small and large – to your most loyal customers each and every time they interact with you. You can do so either in store or via your marketing communications.

Additionally, a loyalty program encourages customers to return – often. Having a card in their wallet that “reminds” them they are close to earning a reward can be exactly what your store needs to influence your customers to turn the car into your parking lot and make another purchase.

It is a form of low-cost advertising. Customers see your name on the loyalty card when they open their wallet or when they check their email. It’s an effective and inexpensive method for staying front and center of your most important customers.

A loyalty program can help you gather key information. By using one that is monitored via software and linked to your POS system, you can collect valuable metrics to learn more about your customers and customize your offers and sales accordingly.

The hows

There are many options for how to set up a loyalty card program. You can have a manually run program that is managed via punch cards that customers turn in for rewards. Or you can make your program more formal by using software programs that link to your POS system and that will help you track the rewards and shopping habits of your customers more closely.

Choosing the best method for your store will depend on your technology programs, your skills and your budget. The key is to not let the lack of software or computer expertise be the reason you don’t create a loyalty card program. It can be set up simply and run effectively using very crude tools, but either way the program is a critical way to say thank you to your customers in today’s competitive marketplace – and drive traffic and sales to your store.

Some tips for running an effective program:

Make it easy to join. If you want high participation, let your customers find your program in a variety of places and using a variety of tools (of their choice to opt-in) Whether it’s on your website or at your cash register, via your email programs or on your social media pages, give customers the option of filling out a form to join your loyalty program with the promise of receiving special offers from your business.

Create physical loyalty cards with your store logo. People want to be part of the club. Create a loyalty card that customers can carry in their wallet, or offer to hold the card and update it for them when they come in again. Knowing that “progress and punches” are being made is part of the fun and connection to your business.

Send regular emails. Speak to your loyalty card customers as if they are part of a very special club and make sure to incentivize membership with early (and exclusive) offers and events on a regular basis.

Lynn Switanowski Barrett

Lynn Switanowski is founder of Creative Business Consulting Group, a Boston-based retail consulting firm. The consulting group works with retail businesses to create and implement profit-improving sales, marketing, and inventory management strategies. For more information, call 617.437.9191 or email lynn@cbc-group.net.




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