Whether you’re a self-proclaimed “gearhead” or not, chances are you’ve heard of AutoZone.  As an auto parts and services retailer, AutoZone has done a fantastic job of building a name for itself. With a committed, passionate customer base, they have established themselves as the place for many car junkies looking to improve their hot wheels.

In an effort to reward their best customers for their enthusiastic and ongoing business, AutoZone started their AutoZone Rewards program. The program is the perfect opportunity to publicly thank their existing customers and hopefully win over some new ones. However, the question is whether AutoZone Rewards deserves first place or still needs to have its oil changed.

Let’s find out!

How AutoZone supercharges their program

Designed with a couple key concepts in mind, it’s easy to see why AutoZone Rewards is off to the races.

AutoZone Rewards is easy to understand

A rewards program is only as effective as it is easy to understand. If customers can’t figure out what the program does or how it works, they won’t be motivated to participate.

AutoZone Rewards Case Study–A screenshot from the AutoZone Rewards program explainer page of their call-to-action to join the program. In bold, red letters it says, “Join Now. It’s Free.” Underneath in black letters it says, “You’ll earn a $20 Reward after every 5 qualifiying purchases.” Below are three CTA buttons. They say: ‘Join Now’, ‘Sign In’, and ‘I Joined in Store’. Beside this text is an image of a person holding their phone in front of a car steering wheel with the AutoZone app open.
AutoZone Rewards makes it easy for customers to join.

No need to worry about that with AutoZone! They have put together a program-specific page to explain how it works with a good balance of text and visuals that keep it easy to scan and understand.  

 AutoZone Rewards Case Study–A screenshot from the AutoZone Rewards explainer page. The program benefits are listed: Earn a $20 reward after every 5 credits, track all of your purchases, manage your vehicle and service history, access hundreds of free repair guides, and get exclusive offers customized for you. Below that there is an orange meter illustration with ‘5.5 Credit Earned’ written below it in black, block letters. Beside the meter is text that says, “Your $20 Reward. Join and start earning Rewards today! 1. Join AutoZone Rewards 2. Earn a credit for every purchase of $20 or more 3. Get a $20 reward for every five credits.”
AutoZone Rewards offers intangible and tangible benefits.

They also made sure that the value of joining is the first thing new and returning members see.  In bold letters, the page announces that customers can earn a $20 reward after earning 5 credits by making a purchase of $20 or more. Not only is this 20% return on investment super attractive, but its visualization with an on-brand, bright orange meter makes it hard to miss. They also go the extra mile and explain the intangible benefits such as tracking purchases and managing vehicle history in one place.

AutoZone has made sure that their rewards program is visually connected to the rest of their site. Through colors, fonts, and icons, the car specialists seem to understand that your rewards program should be a cohesive part of your overall brand experience–not an afterthought.

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AutoZone Rewards is highly visible

In addition to being easy to understand, a good rewards program also needs to be easy to find.  Otherwise, how can customers get engaged?  

AutoZone has made their program very visible by including links in their navigation bar, header, and footer of every page. With bold lettering and clear copy, each call-to-action encourages customers to click to find out more and discover the value of participating in the AutoZone Rewards program.

AutoZone Rewards Case Study–A screenshot of AutoZone’s homepage showing 3 different places where the AutoZone Rewards program is promoted. The first is an image of the AutoZone App, the second is a call-to-action that says “AutoZone Rewards. Join for free and earn more”, and the third is in a drop-down menu under the sign-in icon on the top right hand side of the page that says “Earn Rewards”.
AutoZone displays their loyalty program in 3 different places on their homepage.

With these 3 touchpoints, customers can easily find, explore, and engage with the program no matter where they are on the site. With so many ways to engage with AutoZone Rewards at every touchpoint in the online customer journey, shoppers are still bound to view the program as relevant, accessible, and valuable every time they visit the site.

AutoZone Rewards builds community by making rewards fun

One of the biggest reasons customers join reward programs is because they’re fun. It’s enjoyable to earn and redeem rewards, and programs that emphasize that positive interaction are always more appealing to customers.

AutoZone has taken the time to develop a marketing strategy that focuses on building a face and persona for the program. Take this ad, for example:

Through a combination of humor and “real people”, they’ve built a community-based narrative around their rewards program that looks warm, inviting, and fun! By showing AutoZone associates and other customers encouraging the member to redeem rewards, they create a desire to be included that will push customers to join their rewards program.

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AutoZone Rewards has become a community of people who care for their cars and want to help others do the same, evident by their reputation as a company “for car people, by car people”.   This emotional connection is what keeps customers excited and engaged, no matter how often they visit an AutoZone location.

Where AutoZone needs a tune-up

Even the best race cars need their tires changed every once in a while. In spite of its fantastic features, there are still a few areas AutoZone should take a closer look at.

Customers can only earn points through purchases

The sole purpose of a loyalty program is to turn one-time customers into repeat customers and build a loyal following. You achieve this by acquiring, engaging, and retaining customers. And once you have got customers to join your loyalty program, the next step is engaging them and keeping them interested. There’s nothing worse than a customer who joins your program, forgets about it, and never visits your site again.

AutoZone Rewards Case Study–A screenshot from their FAQ page. It reads, “How do I earn a credit? You'll earn a credit when you spend $20 or more (pre-tax) on a qualifying in-store, online or Same Day Store Pickup purchase. All you will need is your AutoZone Rewards ID, phone number or digital card if shopping in-store. When shopping on AutoZone.com or through the app, you can either sign in to your account or enter your Rewards ID at checkout. For more detail on credits and qualifying purchases, please see the full Program Terms and Conditions.”
AutoZone Rewards offers 1 credit for every purchase of $20 or more. 

AutoZone Rewards could use some maintenance on their reward expectations as well. No matter how much a customer spends in their transaction, they only receive one credit. This means someone who spends $20 and someone who spends $200 are awarded the same value. Not to mention, their terms and conditions specifically state that, “Customers are not allowed to separate their purchases into multiple transactions for the purpose of earning more credits than would be available through a single in-store transaction.” Your loyalty program should show your customers how valuable they are to you, not take value away from them.

AutoZone could rev up their customer loyalty experience by adding multiple points earning actions. These could include sign-up bonuses, birthday points, points for leaving a reward, or points for engaging with the brand on social media. All of these keep your customers engaged throughout the year, demonstrate how much you value your customers, and avoid letting your casual customers go dormant after their semi-annual purchases.

Another way AutoZone could enhance their program is by running bonus points campaigns. As we said, loyalty programs should be exciting! One of the best ways to build hype around your program is to pick select time periods throughout the year where customers can earn 2x the points. This keeps customers engaged and reminds them of your program at the same time.

There’s only one type of reward up for grabs

Similar to offering multiple ways to earn points, it’s best practice to offer multiple ways to redeem points. While AutoZone Rewards members do gain a variety of benefits like managing their customer details conveniently and exclusive offers, there is still only one reward they’re actively working towards–a $20 off coupon.

Offering more than one type of reward makes a program more appealing to a wider demographic of customers.

For customers who don’t invest a lot of time into their vehicles, being able to earn different types of rewards would make the program more appealing and, as a result, open it up to a wider demographic of customers who don’t necessarily care about saving money on windshield wiper fluid. For example, AutoZone could allow customers to earn and save their points to redeem them for a variety of rewards ranging from free products like a car wash all the way to a free oil change once they’ve saved enough points.

By offering a variety of reward types such as, free products, amount-based discounts, or percentage-based discounts, you appeal to a wider range of customers. This would allow AutoZone to capture more than just the car fanatics–they’d also appeal to the everyday vehicle owner who just wants to get from point A to point B smoothly.

Ambiguous rewards expiry windows

One of the biggest frustrations customers can have with a rewards program is rewards expiration. Nobody likes to earn rewards only to have them taken away, especially if they don’t know the expiration date is coming.  

Even though retailers like AutoZone have the right to set their rewards to expire, there’s a proper way to do that. No matter how you choose to configure your points expiry, one thing is certain–it needs to be clear. Customers should never be surprised to learn that their hard-earned points have expired. While AutoZone Rewards does list their points expiry dates, it’s not the most straightforward. They have not one, but two different expiration periods. Any credits left unredeemed after three months are considered null and void, and any rewards not redeemed within 365 days are no longer valid.

AutoZone Rewards Case Study–A screenshot from their FAQ page. It reads, “Do my credits or AutoZone Rewards ever expire? Each of your credits will expire 1 year (365 days) from the date of issuance. Your AutoZone Rewards that are earned will expire in 3 months (90 days). For more detail, see the full Program Terms and Conditions. Please note: The State of Maine is not subject to these expiration periods.”
AutoZone Rewards credits expire after 1 year and rewards expire after 3 months.

With these expiry dates, AutoZone is expecting their customers to keep track of both their points and rewards to take full advantage of them. After a customer spends $100 throughout the year and earns the $20 reward, we can’t think of anything more frustrating than going to redeem their reward 4 months later only to learn it’s expired. While including point expiry in your program is a great way to re-engage dormant customers or create urgency, reward expiry can cause even your most loyal customers to do a U-turn right towards a competitor.

Unclear reward expiration dates can have a significant impact on a rewards program’s engagement rates.

Along with ambiguous expiry dates, AutoZone sets the bar pretty high for casual customers. With credits expiring 1 year after the date of issuance, AutoZone requires customers to visit the store and spend $20 at least 5 times a year. We don’t know about you, but if our mechanics are doing their job correctly, we sure hope that we don’t have to visit them 5 times a year. AutoZone may want to pump the breaks with these program expectations to give customers a bit more motivation.

It turns out we’re not the only people confused by this program structure. AutoZone was actually taken to court over their expiration dates in 2016, indicating that other customers weren’t impressed, either.

Is AutoZone Rewards off to the races or heading back to the pit stop?

As you can tell from this case study, we think AutoZone Rewards has a lot of work to do.  Between the lack of unique earning and reward options,, disjointed expiration dates, and aggressive spending requirements, there are a lot of reasons for customers to switch lanes or decide that the program “isn’t for them.”

However, don’t write AutoZone off just yet. The ultimate test for whether a rewards program is truly successful is how their loyal customers react to it, and it seems that gearheads have enjoyed participating in this program since it was first introduced several years ago.  With a clear return on investment and community-like atmosphere, AutoZone Rewards is the perfect complement to their customer experience for any car fanatic. The key is that they have to be a true fanatic to find value.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 24, 2018 and was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on January 2023.

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