- Eighty-one percent of consumers said they want to form a relationship with brands, a sign of their willingness to participate in loyalty programs, marketing firm Merkle found in a new survey shared with Marketing Dive. Discounts are the most popular loyalty reward, with 70% of consumers preferring these offers over free products (65%), free samples (51%), free services (48%) and a chance to win prizes (28%), the survey found.
- Consumers also like surprises, with 58% of them saying offers and gifts are the most important way for brands to interact with them and recognize their loyalty. Forty-one percent of people surveyed said it was important for brands to make the shopping experience more convenient, indicating that the pandemic's disruptions to daily routines has people asking retailers to help make their lives easier.
- More than half (57%) of respondents said they stayed loyal to a brand despite of the events of 2020, which included the onset of the pandemic, social unrest and the U.S. presidential election. About half (49%) said those events hadn't stopped them from purchasing a brand, the survey of 1,500 U.S. consumers found.
Loyalty has been a key priority for marketers for years, but the pandemic's disruptions to supply chains tested the limits of those bonds with their favorite brands. As shoppers emptied store shelves during the early days of the crisis, many consumers were forced to try other brands and stores. Merkle's survey indicates that a majority of consumers stayed loyal to a brand last year, demonstrating the importance of catering to consumer preferences during uncertain circumstances.
Amid the willingness of many consumers to form longer-term relationships with brands, many want to feel like their loyalty and purchases matter. The preferences for relationships can vary, with almost half (45%) of consumers saying they wanted to "feel like the brand appreciates my business," while 14% said they wanted to feel like a brand "knows me," and another 14% want to feel connected with the brand "on a common cause or set of values," the survey found.
While consumers like surprises and convenience, 40% of them said one of the most important ways to interact with them is by saying "thank you" for their business. The simple gesture, which "costs nothing" and resonates with people, demonstrates that a brand appreciates a customer's business and recognizes their role in the brand's success, according to Merkle.
Among consumers who switched brands in 2020, 18% said their old brand was unavailable and 16% said a new brand offered a better discount or price than other options. Consumers can be persuaded to switch back, however, with 23% of survey respondents saying they would return to a brand if offered a discount. That response was more popular than making a product or service available again (19%), apologizing or explaining a stance on a public issue (12%) or providing information about how a brand bests rivals (11%).
In addition to helping brands weather disruptions like the pandemic, loyalty programs are important for marketers, who are expected to face greater difficulties in targeting their digital advertising in the coming few years. Google is ending support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser and Apple is tweaking its software to ask customers for consent to be tracked by apps, pushing marketers to find ways to connect with consumers and urge repeat purchases. Tailoring loyalty programs to fit consumer preferences is important in maintaining these relationships, as Merkle's study suggests.