Why Tiered Programs Are Great for Customer Loyalty

August 18, 2017

Editor’s Note: this post was originally published on November 19, 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness as of August 17, 2017.

Tiered programs are customer loyalty programs that offer different rewards depending on which tier a customer is in. In order to progress to the next tier, customers must pass a pre-determined milestone.  Typically, these milestones are measured by how many dollars a customer has spent, but they can be anything!  

tiered program member movement

Here at Smile.io, we have also seen retailers use the number of orders or number of friends referred, and an increasingly popular one is total loyalty points earned.  By setting milestones based on loyalty points earned, your customers are encouraged to interact with every aspect of your program, boosting your program’s engagement.

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Benefits of a Tiered Program

Tiered programs are a great way to differentiate your loyalty program, and come with a few great benefits! That being said, it’s important to remember that simplicity is key when starting a program.  In general, tiers are typically added to an existing program rather than as a starting feature.

However, whether you choose to start with tiers or introduce them later, here are 4 benefits of tiered programs:

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1.  Tiers Increase Customer Engagement

Tiered programs are a great way to boost your program’s customer engagement. By adding tiers to your program, you are challenging customers to reach these new levels and are adding an element of gamification to your loyalty program.

tiered program member local ladder effect

A customer’s motivation to reach the next tier in your program is twofold: for one thing, they want the additional rewards offered.  In addition, they also desire the social status that comes with that next tier. Science has shown that it’s natural for humans to want to know where they stand relative to others, and this desire is what fuels our drive to reach new tiers. This need to compare is sometimes referred to as the Local Ladder Effect.

As humans we are constantly comparing ourselves to those around us. That is why we obsess over leaderboards when we play games, want to know what our co-workers make annually relative to us, and why we want to compare ourselves to stated averages.

tiered program tiers tip exclusivity

A tiered program plays on the idea of the “Local Ladder Effect” because it lets your customers see where they stand in your program. You can even supercharge a tier’s effectiveness by showing what percentage of your members are in each level.  Just make sure that your top tier is reserved for an exclusive minority!

2. Exclusivity Makes Customers Feel Valued

Your tiered program also has the benefit of making your most valuable customers feel, well, valued! By giving more rewards to customers in your upper tiers, you are showing them that you value their business more than a regular one time shopper’s. 

tiered program tiers tip engagement

Consequently, when customers feel valued they are much more likely to become brand advocates. A brand advocate is someone who loves your company so much that they want to tell everyone about it.

tiered program starbucks excitement

Their exclusive status in your program makes them feel “special” and “valued” and they will want to tell the world about it.  Starbucks and Sephora have done a fantastic job of developing exclusivity within their programs, and people are constantly talking about it on social media.  In many ways, this social status is the best reward your customers can receive.

3. Offer the Best Rewards Only to Those Who Earn It

A tiered program ensures that you are only awarding more expensive rewards to those who are providing the most value in return.

tiered program tier rewards menus

This value can be in the form of money spent on your site or sharing actions that are driving new business.

tiered program tiers tip diversify

Whatever metric you decide to use to determine your program’s milestones, be sure you know the value each customer in that tier is providing. This way you can reward loyal customers with rewards that reflect the value they are providing to your store.

4. Give Rewards Based On Where a Customer Is In Their Customer Journey

Customers value different rewards and incentives based on where they are in the customer journey. The customer journey is an outline of all the stages a customer goes through when interacting with an ecommerce site.

tiered program tiers tip customer journey

By having a tiered program, you can have different rewards for each tier that reflects where that group of customers is in their journey. This ensures that your rewards are relevant and effective for each tier you have.

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Tiered Program Examples (Online)

Now that you know the benefits of a tiered program, let’s look at some examples of loyalty programs that are putting tiers to use. We will start with some online examples and then move onto a few retail ones.

e.l.f. Cosmetics’ Beauty Squad

tiered program elf explainer

This first example is e.l.f. Cosmetics, a New York-based makeup retailer. e.l.f. sets their tier milestones based on the number of loyalty points a customer has earned, and has divided their customers into three groups: glow getters, rising stars, and a-listers.  Customers earn points for every dollar they spend, and can achieve a-lister status after spending $400 within 12 months.

tiered program elf tiers

Beauty Squad is an excellent example of the “reward only your best customers” principle at work.  While customers at any level can receive a birthday gift and dollars-off discount on certain purchases, only the most loyal customers are given access to new products, early access to sales, and additional gifts.

Ecodiva Beauty’s Loyalty & Love

tiered program ecodiva explainer

Ecodiva is another cosmetics brand making effective use of customer tiers.  The Loyalty & Love program was designed as a way of rewarding customers committed to using environmentally friendly beauty products, and each tier has clearly been designed with a consistent loyalty brand in mind.

tiered program ecodiva tiers

Setting tiers based on orders is a great way to encourage customers to return and purchase again. Every order brings them one step closer to more rewards. In Ecodiva’s program, customers are able to earn more points per dollar at each tier.  This means that customers get accelerated rewards when they place more orders.

Switch Kiteboarding’s Switch Rewards

tiered program switch explainer

This last example is from Switch Kites, a New Zealand-based kiteboarding company. Switch Kites also sets milestones based on loyalty points earned (known as Switch Rewards). What makes Switch Kites’ program unique is the amount of tiers they have.

tiered program switch tiers

Customers progress through the tiers by obtaining loyalty points. The number of points required to move to the next tier is as follows:

  • Recruit: 15,000 points
  • Charger: 30,000 points
  • Master: 50,000 points
  • Legend: 80,000 points

Similar to the Ecodiva example, customers are rewarded accelerated points for moving to the next tier. This means that the more points a customer earns, the faster they will earn them in the future.



Tiered Program Examples (Retail)

While tiered programs have become very popular in online loyalty programs, there are also some great examples in the retail space. These two programs are considered leaders in retail customer loyalty.

Sephora’s VIB Rouge & Beauty Insider

tiered program sephora benefits

Sephora’s Beauty Insider program is one of the best examples of a tiered program in retail. The program sets milestones based on dollars spent in a calendar year. In order to achieve VIB status, you must spend $350 annually, and to achieve Rouge status you must spend $1,000.

This program does a fantastic job of establishing exclusivity, and in turn makes each of their customers feel special and valued. One of the ways Sephora does this is with the rewards they offer at each tier.

tiered program sephora vib event

When a customer becomes a VIB they begin to receive exclusive rewards. These loyal customers receive free custom makeovers, invitations to exclusive events, and access to a private customer hotline. All these rewards strengthen the status a customer feels when moving up a tier.

Starbucks’ Starbucks Rewards

tiered program starbucks home

Another premier example of a tiered program is Starbucks Rewards. The Starbuck’s rewards program is consistently regarded as the leader of in-store loyalty programs.

To enroll in the program, customers must register for a Starbucks card or download the rewards app. Once they have registered, they are able to collect “Stars” by paying for purchases with the card or the app. This is genius because it reduces the amount of transaction fees that Starbucks pays while making transactions easier for customers.

tiered program starbucks benefits

Customers are automatically added to the Green level when they register with a card or within the app. They then require 300 Stars to move to Gold status.

While there are many benefits given at each level, the most prestigious has to be the coveted Gold Card.

tiered program starbucks gold card

Costing Starbucks next to nothing to offer, this reward is viewed by many as a prestigious measurement of social status. The card makes a customer feel entitled and special, and is a great way for Starbucks to increase visibility.  In these ways, the value of this reward is truly double-sided.

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Taking It to the Next Level with a Tiered Program

In summary, tiered programs are a great way to differentiate your program. They provide a number of benefits like increasing customer engagement, controlling expenses, and offering targeted rewards.

Above all, though, it is important to remember that tiered programs are a great way to enhance a program - not start it. If you are looking to start a program, there are many great resources available to help you hit the ground running, and when you do you’ll be well prepared to start designing your own amazing tiered strategy.

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