Member Loyalty Lessons From Retailers

Membership August 14, 2013

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

It seems that every retailer has a loyalty program these days. Are there some member loyalty lessons that associations could apply?

These days we can earn reward miles or free coffee; we can redeem points for cash at supermarkets and drug stores.  The lure of a free vacation or bonus miles has many of us driving out of our way for gas or becoming loyal to specific grocery chains. My bulging wallet is a testament to the success of these retail loyalty programs. So it got me wondering, if these programs are working so effectively for retailers, could associations and clubs use loyalty initiatives to increase member engagement and improve retention?

Whether the program involves a loyalty card, rewards card, points card, advantage card, or club card, the objective is toencourage, loyal buying behavior”. The retailer offers discounts, points or freebies to keep customers coming back and to encourage us to consume more or purchase specific products. And some programs really do a great job of making us feel special or appreciated, through marketing efforts.  

What about using a coffee card concept for increasing event attendance?

While many large associations offer affinity programs and some offer tiered membership benefits, I’m wondering if some of the most basic retail loyalty program practices have been applied?  For example, since we know that retention is tied to member engagement and participation, have any organizations implemented a coffee-card type program to encourage members to attend workshops, seminars or other events?  What if an organization went beyond member and non-member pricing and actually offered the third event free if a member signed up for two sessions?

Membership success stories

In addition to the multitude of loyalty programs, there are also some stores that are designed around a membership business model. Two that I'm personally familiar with are Mountain Equipment Co-op and Costco. In a recent post on the Membership Marketing Blog, Tony Rossell used Costco as an example of a retailer that was having great success with its membership model. In the post, Rossell asks:

If membership as a way to connect with your community and customers is a dead or dying concept, why are so many for-profit companies running to embrace it?

Rossell’s post offers insight into Costco’s membership success and why “from new member input, to growing the top membership tier, to maintaining a high renewal rate, Costco’s numbers are enviable.”

So how can associations use the loyalty program concept to encourage participation or provide tangible membership value?

If you have any ideas or success stories, I hope you’ll share them in the comments below.

For additional member loyalty ideas, check out these posts:

Image source:  Loyalty Points Reward Card, courtesy of

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