Fun, Creative, Smart. Here’s What Defines Retail Loyalty In 2023

There may be as many as a million retail reward programs in the United States. Is it possible that just one can edge out all the others as the most likely to succeed in 2023?

Without stepping through every one of these programs, it’s clear year in and year out that some loyalty initiatives do stand apart for their perks, technologies and customer understanding. Many of these programs are familiar to us for their sheer size: StarbucksSBUX
, AmazonAMZN
Prime, CVS. I’d wager the majority of U.S. households is enrolled in one of these programs.

But there’s also a class of programs that should be recognized for their innovation in the face of these giants, as well as those that just nail it in one category. In the spirit of healthy competition, here’s a short list of some of the programs that stood out across various categories.

The Programs To Watch In 2023 … In 6 Categories

  1. The program to watch for being fun – Blumtopia by Blume. Look, any rewards program with a web page that treats members to the sounds of ocean waves, rooster crows and the encouraging jingle of points adding up is bringing in the fun. Blume is a feminine youth brand specializing in sustainable skin, period and self-care products with a focus on good health over image. Blumtopia’s earnings options also delight – members collect “Blume Bucks” just by signing up, then earn more by following Blumtopia’s social platforms, by leaving reviews and (of course) buying products. Members can redeem their BBs for “divine” prizes, such as Blume apparel, beauty products and gift cards, all displayed on Grecian pedestals on the website.
  2. The program to watch for being well-dressedHugo Boss Experience. This program is so easy on the eyes, and that makes it easy to linger with it. Its website is modular and streamlined, with earth-toned photography of beautiful people in crisp, smart outfits. Yet Hugo Boss does not overdress for the occasion. Rather than issue points and adhere to the typical earn-and-burn rewards model, HB Experience promises just that: exclusive member experiences and early access to its products. Instead of being rewarded with points, members are thanked with birthday gifts (like product discounts) and perks that never go out of style, including expert fashion advice and personal shopping services.
  3. The program to watch for creativity – Levi’s RedTab. The historic maker of denim clothing gets what matters to its customers, and that’s jeans that reflect who they are, down to the fit and literal design. Creativity is woven right into the program benefits: RedTab members get two free alterations a year, discounts on custom embroidery and direct-to-garment printing. Further, the RedTab program offers “exclusive member moments,” such as a free back-patch swap on Valentine’s Day so members can customize jeans instead of V-day cards. Members also earned app access to Levi’s collaborations, such as with the vintage brand Bentgablenits, in which Levi’s apparel were used as canvases for Bentgablenits’ signature flower embellishments.
  4. The program to watch for being easy-going – Chipotle Rewards. The setup of this fast-casual chain’s reward program is as straightforward as the ingredients on its menu: spend $1, earn 10 points, redeem. Members earn points in the restaurant, online or in the rewards app. If they participate in the programs “Extras” gamification feature, they earn double points for participating in personalized challenges and receive achievement badges. This activity translates to further understanding, because it delivers detailed, real-time customer data to Chipotle. Members can cash in points for free food, Chipotle-branded products (love the “chips” and “guac” sandals), or donate them to a partner cause, such as the National Young Farmers Coalition.
  5. The program to watch for its generous spirit – REI Co-op. For a fee-based program, REI has nailed the exercise of making members feel spoiled. In return for a one-time enrollment fee of $30 and a $50 purchase, each customer automatically becomes a lifetime co-op member, and (in 2022) gets a $30 bonus card. Additionally, members get free shipping on all orders, bonus cards that are mailed direct and special pricing on product rentals, bike repair and outdoor excursions. Lastly, enrollees can earn up to 10% back annually on eligible purchases. By joining, REI Co-op members become givers too. For each lifetime membership, REI donates $5 to its REI Cooperative Action Fund, which supports outdoor culture and well-being.
  6. The program to watch for its smarts – Club Publix. Yeah, Amazon may seem like the obvious choice, with its 200 million Prime members and Amazon Web Service, but we’re giving the nod to Publix for the tailored bundle of digital shopping tools in its rewards initiative. These sharply focused app-based technologies, including payment scanning, product replenishment and e-receipts, generate the kinds of customer data that make operational sense to the chain – and therefore, to its customers. For example, Club Publix members receive customized perks and offers for the goods they buy, as well as first notice of special deals and product launches. Even enrollment is smart: shoppers merely have to text the word “JOIN” to 782549. This membership base likely contributed to the 10.7% sales gain Publix reported in the first three quarters of 2022.

The Program Most Likely To Succeed

Any program that can combine the above qualities, and more, will succeed in 2023. Different programs have different measures of success, however, and defining those goals first is instrumental to achieving them. Reward program leaders who take the time to know what they need to achieve and then map out the steps to get there will have some measure of success.

For sure, this is not a complete list, of course. Many shoppers and loyalty operators would likely pass these honors to different programs. But that’s the nature of loyalty initiatives – they represent different opportunities and benefits to different consumers. The best programs are just very good at knowing their audiences, at every step.