Escalating Loyalty
By Mark Kalaygian
August 29, 2013


Yesterday, I read this interesting article on CNBC.com about how retailers are stepping up in a big way with their customer-loyalty programs; and it left me wondering, are pet stores doing enough in this area?

Clearly, the loyalty-club craze that has pervaded just about every other retail channel has also reached pet specialty stores. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Pet Business revealed that 64 percent of these retailers offer some type of customer-loyalty program. But simply handing out a club card or key fob with a pet store's logo on it in exchange for a customer's personal information does not constitute a successful strategy for driving customer loyalty.

A loyalty program shouldn't just be about collecting customer data for direct marketing. At the very least, it should provide a real incentive for shoppers to come back to the store again and again, and hopefullly spend a few more bucks while they're there. As the CNBC article points out, some retailers are accomplishing this not only by rewarding all of their loyalty-club members (typically with discounts on their purchases), but by escalating those rewards based on the amount that customers spend in the store.

I know of at least one pet specialty retailer that is taking just such an approach. Pet Business' 2013 Retailer of the Year, Chuck & Don's, which operates 24 stores in Minnesota and Colorado, offers a tiered customer-loyalty program that gives shoppers a percentage of their purchases back in the form of a rebate. Those percentages increase as customers spend more and move up from "Friends of Chuck" to "Good Friends of Chuck" and finally to "Best Friends of Chuck."

“Chuck [Anderson] has always said, our most loyal customers get rewarded the most,” says John Imholte, senior district manager of Chuck & Don’s Minnesota stores. “So, the more loyal you are to us, the more you’re going to get back.”

Giving something back to loyal shoppers, however, need not be about cash-back rewards and purchase discounts. According to CNBC.com, some retailers are finding success with offering incentives such as free home delivery, early access to new product introductions and invitations to special VIP events.

Whatever direction a pet store decides to go with its customer-loyalty club strategy, probably the most important factor in the ultimate success of such a program is to keep evolving it by finding new and exiciting ways to reward shoppers for their loyal patronage. After all, what customer may find to be a nice bonus today will inevitably be a minimum expectation tomorrow—and staying ahead of those expectations is key.