See how using customer experiences as a benefit can boost retention. Plus, real-life examples of what’s working.
At a time when so many retailers struggle to find firm footing and financial stability, it’s more important than ever to become highly effective at gaining and retaining customers. And when 77 percent of transaction-based loyalty programs fail within two years of starting, according to Capgemini Consulting research,1 it’s clear that discounts aren’t always the right rewards for driving customer loyalty.
Experiential rewards offer an exciting alternative, helping to differentiate your store from the competition and create strong customer impressions that last much longer than fleeting transactional rewards. Here’s a closer look at what they are, plus examples you can steal from to test experiential rewards with your own customers.
What are experiential rewards — and why do they work?
Experiential rewards involve giving loyal customers access to experiences they may not be able to enjoy otherwise. This could include anything from concerts (and backstage passes) to private events, exclusive training workshops and more. In a nutshell, they’re about activities, not items, and they play on FOMO — people’s “fear of missing out.”
Retailers are also turning to in-store experiential tactics, such as VIP check-out, personal shopper experiences — even special attention from a store manager if a customer issue arises.
Since 97 percent of reward programs today rely on transactional rewards, according to Capgemini, giving experiences rather than discounts can truly distinguish your brand from the competition. In addition, experiences can evoke much stronger and longer-lasting emotions than transactional benefits. As such, customers are more likely to let friends and family know about their experience. And it’s why they’re sometimes referred to as “transformational” rewards.
“… when you tie an unforgettable experience to the essential elements of your brand DNA, you ensure that the memory stays forever connected to your business. The value of that goes beyond just branding to genuine consumer loyalty ….”
– Madelyn Young, ThinkInk
Doing Experiential Rewards Well
Doing experiential rewards well is about more than just offering up a few concert tickets now and then, though. The Capgemini study also notes that 44 percent of shoppers feel loyalty program rewards are irrelevant, which means the experiences must resonate with your core customer base.
You need to leverage your customer data to understand which experiences will appeal to your customers. Make it as personalized as you can and make sure that it fits seamlessly with your brand. Consider a Statistical Loyalty Program Optimization™ strategy to unearth possible rewards with the best reach — and financial impact.
For instance, when Sephora offers one-on-one makeup consultations (see below), the beauty retailer is offering both a personalized experience and something that resonates with their brand. The same approach simply wouldn’t make sense for, say, Sony or outdoor-gear retailer REI.
Some experiential rewards can carry a heavier cost than traditional transactional rewards. It may make financial sense to offer these high-end perks only to your very best customers — which also lends exclusivity to the experience. But you can still offer less costly experiences to lower tier groups — see below for Nieman Marcus’ approach.
5 Top Experiential Reward Examples
Here are a few examples of retailers offering effective and innovative experience rewards as part of their customer relationship management initiatives.
The department store’s rewards program has offered its members many unique, one-of-a-kind rewards through the years. These have included tickets to red-carpet events like Hollywood movie premieres and the American Music Awards. But they’ve also included much more personal experiences that customers simply can’t get anywhere else. For instance, they’ve surprised a small group of members by styling them in new fashions. And recently they selected one member to model for a photo shoot for a fashion launch.
Sony takes a unique approach to experiential rewards, having members bid on the “amazing experience, hard-to-get tickets or cool swag” they offer. This has included the usual movie and concert access, but also entrance to things like Electronic Entertainment Expo and the Sony Open Golf Tournament.
What’s particularly interesting is that to “win” an experience, members don’t have to reach a set level of points accumulation. Instead, they bid for experiences — and they can purchase a limited amount of additional points at a penny each to up their bid. If the member doesn’t win the bidding, they don’t get charged for the regular or purchased points that they bid.
Neiman Marcus InCircle
This luxury department store is well known for delivering unparalleled customer service, and its experiential rewards follow suit. Each of the eight InCircle member tiers offers at least one form of experience-based perks. At the lowest levels, members get invites to exclusive sales and other special store events. At the fourth tier, they can use a concierge service, which can arrange personalized travel itineraries, secure in-demand restaurant reservations and more.
Two more tiers up, and members can indulge in a Fitting Room Experience, which comes with personal shopping assistance and snacks. At the highest level, the Chairman’s Circle, the most elite members can enjoy privileges such as access to exclusive, customized travel experiences (the trip itself is not free of charge), as well as complimentary valet parking, salon services, in-store dining and more.
The footwear and athletic apparel retailer’s rewards program is appropriately focused on athletic performance. Members gain access to coaching audios, exclusive Nike event invitations and the Nike+ community, where they can meet and train with fellow members. Plus, they can connect directly with Nike experts who offer assistance with training practices and purchase decisions. Interestingly, Nike even flips the experiential equation by allowing members to earn special rewards based on their athletic experiences and achievements.
Sephora Beauty Insider
This prestige beauty retailer has a tri-tier rewards program that offers personalized experiences from the bottom up. Every member qualifies for free beauty classes, while higher levels also get free custom makeovers (just one for mid-level VIB members). At the highest VIB Rouge level, members get invited to exclusive events.
Beauty Insider members can also shop the Rewards Bazaar, using points to secure products and experiences. For 17,500 points, they can purchase VIP Access to New York Fashion Week (not including travel). And for a mere 350,000 points, indulge in a day of beauty and wellness at Murad in Los Angeles.
Get Creative with Experiential Rewards
You don’t need to fly your members around the world to make an impact. Get creative and think about what experiences make sense for your brand, your customers and your budget. Can you offer a “cocktail shopping hour” for an elite group of customers or take them to a local sporting event? What about a unique, one-time experience for customers reaching an unusual milestone, such as a special night out to celebrate a member’s 25th anniversary with you? Or simply giving a higher level of customer experience to loyal members — like the ability to return any purchase for any reason, or giving out free samples (if you’re a food or beverage retailer)?
While glitz and glamour certainly make a splash, remember that the primary goal of experiential rewards is making that emotional connection between your customers and your brand. So whether you go big or stay comfortably small, give your customers an experience to write home — or post to Facebook — about, and reap the long-lasting rewards for your company.
Are you ready to test out experiential rewards or fine-tune your existing approach to maximize results? As a pioneering loyalty marketing agency, CCG has more than 40 years of experience helping our retail clients review their retail marketing solutions — and revive performance. Email us or call 303.986.3000 today to see how we can help you create, maintain and grow profitable, long-lasting customer relationships.
1 “Fixing the Cracks: Reinventing Loyalty Programs for the Digital Age,” Capgemini Consulting, posted March 26, 2015, https://www.capgemini.com/consulting/resources/reinventing-loyalty-programs/#, accessed Jan. 19, 2018