31 May 2010

Loyalty cards are about customer knowledge, next step: integration with social media

Despite its recent loss of market share, Asda continues to argue that its lowest price policy is a better strategy than its main rivals’ loyalty card schemes.  I think they are wrong but not with respect to prices but because of the valuable customer data they are not collecting.  Asda simply does not “know” its loyal customers.

In Retail Week May 28th 2010 edition, there is an interesting article about customer loyalty: “Loyalty cards: the bedrock of future success?” 

 <<[David Roth (former B&Q marketing director, now chief executive of the Store WPP)] observes: “The world is going to divide between those who can organise and make use of their customer data and the others, who will wake up in five or six years’ time, outmanoeuvred. The person who owns the data, owns the customer.”
But he maintains that loyalty schemes are primarily a means to an end and will not on their own make a retailer successful.  He says: “Gaining customer loyalty is about a lot more than a scheme. The value proposition will be important.”
For all the interest in loyalty and the success of some programmes, they will never be a panacea for retail’s ills and typically cannot answer one vital question. As [James] McCoy (Yougov SixthSense research director) says: “Loyalty schemes can tell you what people are buying - but not what they’re not buying. As well as whatever they are spending at one retailer, they might be spending another £40 a week at Lidl, which you have no idea about. The challenge is to find the data you don’t have.” >>

David Roth and McCoy are absolutely correct.  In the FMCG sector, loyalty schemes will increasingly be a necessity for commercial success but will not be sufficient by themselves to ensure competitive advantage.  Competitive advantage will first come with what is done with the information collected at the till.  Tesco Clubcard is a perfect illustration of this: I am a Tesco customer and I receive at home personalised mail including discount coupons for products that I am likely to buy based on my purchase history.
However, the true Holy Grail of competitive advantage is not in the customers’ purchase history data, it is with the knowledge of what they want but cannot find or afford, what they might buy if they were made aware of it or if it was conditioned differently, what they buy with the competition, etc…  The most valuable customer knowledge will not come from transactions at the till but from engaging with customers to get them to tell what their needs and wants are.  Luxury goods retailers have known this for centuries and have always valued and leveraged the in-store customer knowledge obtained by the salesperson through the conversations with his/her “loyal” customers.
So FMCG retailers will need to engage with the customers registered in their loyalty scheme.  Since they will have to do this through all channels, it will require a holistic approach to customer identification: So this means one account per customer for all channels.  This might seem obvious but I have not yet come across a single retailer (from FMCG to luxury) with such a pervasive integration strategy.  For instance, all retailers with a Facebook page do not integrate the Facebook account with the ecommerce customer account: This means no systematic way of tying up a customer’s comments on Facebook with his/her online (let alone offline) purchase history.
<<Tesco is one of the most advanced of retailers in its ability to mine customer data and use it effectively and, notes Shore Capital analyst Clive Black, has put its scheme at the heart of its business, rather than run it as an add-on.>>
Similarly, in the next few years, retailers will gain competitive advantage from putting social media and all customer interactions at the heart of its business, rather than run it as a an add-on.


At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Customer Loyalty said...

How effective are gift and loyalty cards to a small business?

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Peter-Anthony Glick said...

The question the MD of a small business needs to ask is: "do we know our customers and in particular all our loyal customers?"
If yes, then a loyalty card is probably not needed. It means the number of customers is relatively small and can be managed without a card to identify them. Or it might mean that it is a luxury goods business where customer details are usually obtained during the sale process.
If not, then a loyalty card could be useful but its cost vs expected benefits must be assessed.


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