Of generic and meh-level loyalty cards and membership programs

I generally offer a polite and insistent ‘No! Thank you!’ when the billing clerk asks me about a loyalty program/membership card. My general opinion about membership programs in stores like Shopper’s Stop, Westside, Croma etc. is that it is largely pointless.

Today, my wife heard the magic number (Rs.400 off on our bill) and was mildly interested in indulging the store in a membership card. And we got this, in return (besides the Rs.400 off).

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I have a couple of questions.

1. That CD has songs like Baby doll, Party toh banti hai and so on. It’s a random selection T-series CD. I do understand that you cannot please everybody with an assorted songs CD, but I’m guessing there has to be a way to make it more interesting and useful, no?

Like getting a noted music critic to put together a (T-series owned) set of songs (not just new, but also older ones) and make the story behind the selection as the highlight, instead of merely 13 random songs that are *just a Google* away, either as streaming versions or as legal/illegal downloads. I guess the kind of people who end up buying in these stores can afford decent internet connection (before Airtel makes it mandatory to buy separate packs depending on usage) and hence would have easy access to these songs anyway. I can make this selection of songs ready in 5 minutes flat.

Another idea – getting a well-known composer/lyricist/music producer to take some effort and make a special compilaton based on *something* – a mood, a feeling, a theme… anything, other than 13 random songs from one label. This effort seems like a mix-tape we used to make in the 80s and 90s – just that mix-tapes we made had a personal touch to it while this one doesn’t have any… thus making it all the more pointless and useless. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to treat a ‘First Citizen’. I mean, where is the thought, where is the effort… in making a loyalty customer feel better than normal customers?

2. That booklet with ‘First World’ offers seems truly loaded. Offers like,
‘30% off on a minimum order of Rs.399 and above on Tastykhana’
‘15% off on services at Kaya skin clinic’
‘10% off on consultation at Cloudnine’
‘25% off on labs and ultrasound services at Motherhood’… and the likes.

I see that a LOT of effort has gone into collecting these curiously interesting little offers and make a 84 page booklet out of all that. But I could not imagine the usage of these offers happening seamlessly. For instance,

“Dear, let’s make love, shall we? That Motherhood offers expires on March 31, 2015. We need to ensure that you conceive before that so that we can use that coupon!”

0r…

“I think it’s time to expand our little family of 3”
“What? Your mother is gonna stay with us now?”
“No dear, I meant a new baby, to be a companion to little Rahul. Cloudnine’s 10% consultation discount is getting wasted, no?”

or…

“Hey, stop here… I see a Apollo Dental White outlet. I remember seeing some offer in our First Citizen booklet.”
“But, do you have the card, or the booklet with you now”
“Oh no – forgot to carry it! I think we need to stitch the card and booklet together in the inner lining of my handbag”

I think you get the drift. I’m being sarcastic, of course. Here’s some thought on how this can be better implemented.

Why a card? We all (most of us) have at least 4-5 cards in our over-loaded wallets already. Plus, this card looks incredibly generic too. And it is not even a smart card. Why expect customers to carry this dumb card with them and expect that to the gateway of offers?

Why not use something that people naturally use – like a Shopper’s Stop mobile app that alerts about offers naturally and perhaps using location/proximity?

Do they expect customers to recall the offers in the booklet, across 84 pages? Or is the expectation a more pragmatic ‘People will use 2-3 of them at best’? Why not make it easier for people to use the offers by doing something about the organization of these offers/coupons? I can think of the app helping in this case again, but there can be other ways too – pretty old-world ways too!

Like a desktop printed calendar that holds these offers with some context.

Or seek the user’s mail ID and send one offer a day on mail, to remind them.

Or, a browser add-on that reminds offers in context to searches. I’m just riffing random ideas but the point is that an 84 page booklet is not going to solve any change in user behavior.

I’m increasingly inclined to think that these ‘loyalty’ membership programs are utterly pointless. Or, that it offers way too little in return that people may not treat them with any respect. I think there is an interesting execution-level change waiting to be explored and innovated here. For a large enough chain like Shopper’s Stop, I’m surprised there’s no one telling them how they can create and design a program that can be truly coveted. Is this program designed by professionals? What was the thought that went into it? A sample survey that determined that people will agree to join the program when shown the immaculately packed CD with the card pasted in the front?

“Oooh, that black and grey CD pack looks great. Plus, it lets me save Rs.200, so why not? I’ll sign up!”.

Sounds good, but the point is always about usage *post* the entry to the program, no? To solve the, ‘how could we have the customer coming in to our store at least 4 times an year?’, to start with, as an example?

And what is in this welcome pack that excites a customer at all? Isn’t that the point of a program like this? To let customers tell others with pride and excitement that they got something cool while becoming a member. And a non-customer visiting the store to buy something plus the anticipation of becoming a member. But, if the entry to the membership is so drab and generic, who would covet it?

I guess airline brands had nailed this loyalty part fairly well, offering meaningful and real-world benefit in context to flights – seat upgrade, lounge access, aster queues etc. It’s odd that chain stores like Shopper’s Stop have yet to figure out a way to make these meaningful beyond the standard-issue card and 84 page booklet!

Interestingly, as an irregular shopper at Marks & Spencer (in Bangalore), I have been getting their mails at random points in time. The last time I got it, it was 3 weeks before Diwali and they merely mailed me a detailed list of the in-store offers for Diwali. I ended up buying clothes for Diwali from the store! And this was not part of a membership program – I had merely given my mail ID as part of a simple billing process!

I think the bottomline is just that – it need not even be a formal program. All you need is a post-purchase process to treat people in an interesting way, continue to the interaction in a mode that they prefer and appreciate and most importantly, make that interaction *really* meaningful to the customer. That may ensure loyalty a lot more than any formal program that has the word ‘loyalty’ in it!

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