Just Rewards?

Rewards programs are everywhere. They can build customer loyalty. They can increase market share. They can increase traffic to your store or website. They provide promotional opportunities. But some rewards programs are better than others.

As a consumer, I want a general idea of how a company’s rewards program works. Am I being rewarded for dollars spent, items purchased or store visits? Can I track my rewards? Do they expire? If your organization runs a rewards program, make the details clear.

If your program is vague or, worse, not especially rewarding, it can have a negative effect. If you make it difficult to redeem rewards points, your customers may go elsewhere. Ask frequent flyers of certain airlines about restrictions and problems they’ve had cashing in their points.

When I present my Panera card at Breadco, I am generally told, “you have no rewards today” or “you get a dollar off [a menu item I have no interest in].” I have been surprised and offered a free latte or a bagel a few times. At Starbucks, as I understand it, I will only be rewarded if I transfer available credit onto a registered Starbucks card. I generally prefer to pay with cash, so no rewards for me.

At Kaldi’s, they do it the old way: you collect punches on a card to get a free cup of coffee or specialty drink. Just be sure you have your card with you when you stop in.

Marriott Rewards emails me regularly to update me on my points total. Ulta, a beauty supply chain, sends marketing emails daily and frequently reminds me of my points total. Auto Zone, which only counts purchases over $20 for rewards compilation, will occasionally mail me a coupon for a percentage discount (supposedly triggered by my purchase history).

My wife’s favorite program is Kohl’s Cash. During certain periods, for every $50 you spend, you get $10 in Kohl’s Cash. But you must honor the redemption deadline. And, when you have, say, $40 in Kohl’s Cash, it can be hard to keep your purchase close to $40.

If your company feels it is too small to have its own rewards program, consider partnering with similar businesses. St. Louis Originals is a group of restaurants.  They compete for diners, but share in a successful rewards program.

Here’s my suggestion: If you’re going to do a rewards program, do it right. Empathize with your customer. Know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

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