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3. Ideas To Try: Small Business Customer Loyalty Program

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Ideas To Try: Small Business Customer Loyalty Program

May 25, 2023 • 10+ min read
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      Many businesses invest a lot of resources into enticing new customers. But how are you keeping those customers coming back for more? Enter the small business customer loyalty program — one of the best ways to drive significant results to your bottom line.

      Just look at some of the statistics surrounding the power of customer retention:

      • An increase of 5% in customer retention can grow profits by more than 25%. (HBR
      • An estimated 65% of a company’s business comes from repeat customers. (Invesp)
      • Businesses convert new customers at rates between 5% and 20% while they convert previous customers at rates between 60% and 70% on average. (Textedly)

      Getting new customers to purchase products or book services from your business is obviously important, but the lifeblood of your company will be keeping those customers coming back. So, how do you improve customer retention and entice your customers and clients to choose you over your competitors? What strategies are available to help you stretch the customer lifetime value? To start, foster customer retention through a loyalty program.

      What Are The Benefits Of A Customer Loyalty Program?

      Customer loyalty programs incentivize customers and clients to continue choosing your business for their needs over your competitors. These programs and general retention techniques can help you build long-term relationships with customers, create a community around your business, and improve your reputation.

      Key Components Of A Customer Loyalty Program

      Now that you understand what customer loyalty is and the different types of loyalty, you can begin to create programs within your business to push customers toward some form of loyalty with your business. While you may not be able to convert every customer into an emotionally loyal brand ambassador, you can still incentivize transactional or habitual loyalty through carefully crafted loyalty programs.

      As you start researching customer loyalty techniques, you’ll find hundreds of different strategies and programs available—but most loyalty programs have similar elements and benefits.

      Irresistible Perks

      You’ll hear the word perks a lot when looking at customer loyalty programs. Perks are essentially some added value to the shopping experience.

      Your customers are coming to you for a specific need, but what if you could add a cherry on top of that transaction? Maybe you’re offering a free good or service once they hit a specific number of purchases with your business. Maybe you’re giving them a complimentary item to their purchase, added discounts, an upgraded service, or an invitation to exclusive events.

      An example of an irresistible perk is when a coffee shop gives you a free drink on your birthday. It’s a simple perk that will hopefully help you build more loyalty with customers and bring them back to your coffee shop.

      Loyalty Earning Model

      Your customers earn some reward currency—points, punch-outs, or credits—that they can exchange for or be automatically granted some awesome perks. The specific reward currency customers earn depends on the type of loyalty program you choose.

      Some loyalty programs have customers earn points for every dollar spent, while others give customers a stamp, punch, or other credit for every qualifying purchase or visit.

      A smoothie shop could punch or stamp a loyalty card for every smoothie purchased, while a bookstore might award customers points for every $10 spent on books.

      In addition to the “currency” customers accrue, earning models can also have tiers based on customers’ spending level. For instance, a business may have a tier for each monthly spending/earning level: 0 to 100 points, 100 to 450 points, 450 to 800 points, and 800+ points. At each level, customers get access to tier-specific perks. Plus, they earn points at an expedited rate as they move up the tier levels, meaning they earn points (and tier-specific perks) faster.

      Convenient Tracking System

      Your customers (and you) are able to track the reward currency they’ve earned. This tracking system can be as simple as a physical punch or stamp card or as sophisticated as a digital tracking system on an app.

      Many small restaurants, coffee shops, and similar businesses start with a stamp or punch card before moving up to a scannable card connected to a digital tracking system and/or mobile app. A retail store, such as a clothing store, may start with a simple digital tracking system.

      Types Of Customer Loyalty Programs

      You’re probably pretty familiar with loyalty programs yourself as a business owner, food eater, grocery shopper, clothes wearer—you get the picture. So many businesses, big and small, have some type of customer loyalty program because they work.

      Let’s take a look at some examples of successful customer loyalty programs by industry, including ones from some of your favorite major brands.

      1. Points-Based Loyalty Program

      Many restaurants, coffee shops, and major retailers have loyalty programs that reward customers with points per dollar spent. Think Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. Both coffee brands reward customers every time they purchase a drink, baked good, sandwich, or other product. Customers, in return, get free drinks, discounts on merchandise, birthday gifts, and other perks. 

      Many large retail brands, like Sephora, Ulta, Albertsons, Winn-Dixie, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, have free points-based programs where customers earn points for every dollar (or another qualifying amount) spent.

      A small, local coffee shop can replicate something similar by providing free rewards cards to patrons, punching out a space for every dollar spent or for each drink purchased (above a certain amount), and giving a free drink or pastry when a patron gets enough punch-outs.

      Like with food and drink shops, a points-based program for retail stores incentivizes customers to keep purchasing at your store so they can earn more points and get those sweet deals. You can start small with a punch or stamp card, and punch out or stamp for every purchase of a certain amount that makes the most sense for your goods.

      Many small businesses are already using POS systems to manage their customer orders. A lot of these POS solutions already have customer rewards programs built into the software, which can make it even easier for you to launch and manage a loyalty program like your enterprise competitors.

      2. Membership-Based Loyalty Program

      Some businesses offer free programs where members get regular and special discounts, free shipping on online orders, and early access to deals. 

      You may also be familiar with paid loyalty programs at retail locations like Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJs. You pay a monthly or annual fee to get access to the stores’ super-competitive prices on bulk items, amazing deals and discounts, and even fuel perks.

      While your small business may not be able to offer quite the same level as these big-box stores, you might consider a low-price paid loyalty program to bring in regular income and offer some discounts in return.

      3. Subscription-Based Loyalty Program

      A subscription-based loyalty program rewards customers who purchase services in bulk or with a monthly subscription.

      Some car wash centers allow you to pay for a monthly “subscription” where you get as many washes of a certain value as you want. These paid programs may also offer discounts on other services, like vacuums and detailing.

      Some even have paid loyalty programs where customers pay upfront for a certain number of services and get complimentary services, birthday services, discounts on products, and more.

      For example, European Wax Center lets you purchase a package of your chosen service, lowering the price per service overall. This offers benefits to the customer in the form of a discount while providing the business with a more predictable cash flow.

      How to Create And Manage A Customer Loyalty Program For Your Small Business

      So, you want to reward your customers to keep them coming back for more? Follow these steps to create and manage a customer loyalty program that helps your small business:

      • Differentiate your loyalty or rewards program from competitors’. Check out whether your competitors, both local and national, offer a customer loyalty program. (Chances are, they do.) Then, review what type of program they offer (points-based, tiers, digital, or punch-card). Try to offer better (or more) perks, create or add tiers, and personalize your program from others.
      • Ask customers what they want out of a loyalty program. Learn what your customers want and expect from a customer loyalty program from your business. They’re the ones who will use it, so you should find out what type of program is most convenient for them and what perks they’d like (within reason). Use this information to select the perks, earning model, and tracking system.
      • Consider a paid loyalty program. But only if it makes sense for your business. Do you sell goods or services that customers need regularly? If so, a paid program—where customer pay to join—might be worthwhile. According to McKinsey & Company, nearly 60% of customers in a paid loyalty program said they were more likely to choose that brand over its competitors.
      • Consult a legal professional. Setting up a loyalty program is more than just selecting perks and stamping cards. You must also have clear terms and conditions that every customer who wants to join the loyalty program must sign off on. Contact a business lawyer to help write the terms and conditions, as well as follow state laws for advertising a program, changing the terms, and more.
      • Work on getting an app. Depending on how many customers you have and whether they would use your app, consider working with a developer to create an app for tracking your loyalty program.
      • Get loyalty program tracking software. If you’re ditching physical stamps or punch cards, you should seriously consider getting loyalty program tracking software, like GiftBit, Loyal Zoo, and WooCommerce, that does all the math for you. Loyalty software can also notify your customers when they’ve earned rewards and integrate with your point-of-sale system and app, too.
      • Advertise the launch of the program. Hold a special sign-up event at your business’s location, or send out a newsletter to customers with a link to join the program at their own convenience. You should also have flyers at your POS and ask customers to sign up at checkout.

      You want your customers to keep using the loyalty program and come to your business over competitors, right? That requires you to check in with program users to see if it meets their expectations and ask if they have suggestions for improving it.

      Update the program’s earning model, perks, and tracking tech as your business grows, your industry evolves, and/or your customers’ needs change. Creating a loyalty program that works for both you and your customers is the key to retention.

      About the author
      Derek Miller

      Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at, the co-founder of Lofty Llama, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy,, and StartupCamp.

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