Top 10 Customer Loyalty Programs of 2016

December 27, 2016

2016 has been a big year for customer loyalty programs.  From Starbucks’ program changes to the Air Miles expiration disaster, the concept of customer loyalty was challenged in ways it never was before.  Yet even with all of these less-than-satisfactory experiences, 74% of customers agree that customer loyalty programs are still a reason they choose to continue shopping with specific brands.  

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More brands are shifting their focus from acquisition to retention marketing as customers continue to demand engagement.

In an era of dwindling brand loyalty, the need for engaging loyalty programs is higher than ever.  As more brands shifted their focus from acquisition strategies to retention marketing, many exciting loyalty strategies were introduced in a variety of different industries.  

While I’d love to talk about every single amazing thing that happened with loyalty this year, that would take way too much time.  To compromise, I’ve put together a list of my top 10 customer loyalty programs of 2016.  Through a variety of retention techniques, each of these programs work to dramatically improve customers’ associations with loyalty programs and encourage an upward trend in program participation.

Ready to see what outstanding loyalty looked like in 2016?  Ready or not, here they come.

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Public Desire’s Baes With Benefits Customer Loyalty Program

Editor's Note: this program has been discontinued since the publication of this post.

From top to bottom, Public Desire’s customer loyalty program is on brand and informative.  Through a series of custom icons, clever copy, and videos, the Baes With Benefits explainer page walks customers through the complete earning and redeeming process, leaving no stone unturned.  The page is also extremely well-organized, passing the blink test with flying colours.

top loyalty programs 2016 public desire structure

While they haven’t necessarily done anything radical, Public Desire’s program stands out by being extremely accessible.  The depth and breadth of their explainer page has made it impossible for customers to misunderstand how the program works or how they can participate.  With this knowledge readily at hand, the decision to participate is an easy one, proving that when it comes to customer loyalty knowledge really is power.

What We Learned from Public Desire:

Be informative with a well-designed explainer page.

Marvel’s Marvel Insider Customer Loyalty Program

top loyalty programs 2016 marvel insider homepage

Marvel made waves this year when they announced their Insider program.  With Marvel Insider, fans are given the opportunity to take their passion for Marvel characters to a whole new level – literally!  With four distinct customer tiers, fans can unlock niche-specific rewards that appeal to their Spidey Senses, such as being drawn into a comic book or being Tweeted by a Marvel comic artist.

top loyalty programs 2016 marvel insider rewards

While these rewards might not appeal to everyone, that’s the brilliance of the Insider program.  By paying attention to their customers’ interests, Marvel custom-designed a loyalty experience that rewards members with things they can’t get anywhere else.  This demonstrates a keen understanding of who their customers are and what motivates them – something that can’t be said for many other programs.

As the first pop culture franchise customer loyalty program in the world, Marvel has set themselves apart as a brand with an eye for innovation.

What We Learned from Marvel:

Deliver what your customers actually want from a loyalty program.


e.l.f.’s Beauty Squad Customer Loyalty Program

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 elf homepage

The best loyalty programs offer a healthy mix of transactional and experiential rewards.  When e.l.f. introduced their Beauty Squad program earlier this year, it was clear that e.l.f. took this consideration seriously.  Whether a customer’s part of the glow getter, rising star, or a-lister tiers, they’re eligible to redeem their points for a number of equally valuable rewards, allowing them to tailor their Beauty Squad experience to their lifestyle.

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 elf tiers

This balance makes the program beneficial for customers in every spending bracket.  So while a-listers are still treated to the most exclusive rewards, glow getters still feel treated to benefits other customers don’t get.  Using tiers to offer this type of value makes e.l.f.’s program highly accessible and impactful for each individual shopper.  Whether you’re a makeup artist or a novice, Beauty Squad can impact your shopping experience in a valuable (and meaningful) way.

What We Learned from e.l.f.:

Be value-oriented by offering a variety of rewards at each tier.


Samsung Pay’s Samsung Rewards Customer Loyalty Program

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 samsung rewards home

As mobile pay and digital wallets continued to pick up steam this past year, it was only a matter of time before someone built a customer loyalty program to go with it.  Samsung beat everyone to the punch with Samsung Rewards, a mobile-only rewards program that rewards customers for completing purchases with the Samsung Pay app.  

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 samsung rewards

With customer tiers, welcome points, and a variety of tempting rewards, Samsung Rewards has all of features you’d expect in a loyalty program.  So what makes it so exciting?  Simple: it’s the first.  Samsung was brave enough to go where no mobile payment app has gone before and raised the bar for mobile pay moving forward.  Now, a new standard has been set that their competitors will have to meet if they hope to seriously compete in this industry.  

Their program structure may not be overly innovative, but the fact that it exists is.  That, to me, is pretty remarkable.

What We Learned from Samsung Pay:

Dare to be innovate and blaze a new trail with your rewards program.


Chipotle’s Chiptopia Customer Loyalty Program

I know that this one might be controversial because the program is no longer operational, but Chipotle did everything right when they launched Chiptopia in July.  Needing to attract new and existing customers in the wake of their food poisoning scare, Chipotle used scarcity marketing to make their program meaningful and impactful for the three months it was active.  Rewards were easy to track and even easier to earn and bonus rewards were offered as additional incentives.  Each of these features worked together to make participating a no-brainer for customers.  

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While it might not have had the success Chipotle had hoped for, Chiptopia was a brilliant use of loyalty as an acquisition tool.  With easy-to-reach rewards on the table (pun intended) customers were willing to try Chipotle for the first time, increasing their customer count and bringing in additional revenue.  This wouldn’t have been possible if Chipotle hadn’t been willing to think outside the standard loyalty box, proving that experimentation is often necessary to direct future growth.

What We Learned from Chipotle:

Don't be afraid to experiment!


Zappos’ Zappos Rewards Customer Loyalty Program

top 10 programs 2016 zappos homepage

One of the cardinal rules of starting a customer loyalty program is having a plan for informing your customers.  If customers don’t know your program exists, they’re not going to be able to participate.  There are many ways you can do this, like including a link in your store’s navigation bar, using call-to-action pop-ups, and designing an explainer page.  

loyalty programs of 2016 zappos homepage

While most brands settle for one or two of these methods, Zappos took visibility to a whole other level.  After announcing their program this fall, Zappos decorated their store with program ads that reminded customers to check it out and explore its benefits.  They even offered additional rewards just for signing up!  Each of these promotions communicated how excited Zappos was to be launching their new program, and this enthusiasm rubbed off on customers looking to discover something new.

top 10 loyalty programs zappos earning

The best part was that each of these CTAs were tasteful and nondisruptive, allowing customers who didn’t want to participate to continue shopping in peace.  This consideration went a long way in making Zappos Rewards a valuable shopping experience rather than a nuisance, setting Zappos apart as a brand that understands how to promote themselves and do it well.

What We Learned from Zappos:

Respect your customer's experience when promoting your program.


Ritual’s Ritual Rewards Customer Loyalty Program

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ritual, it’s a mobile app that allows users to pre-order food for pickup at a number of different restaurants.  Customers are encouraged to use the app as a way of skipping the line when they’re picking up lunch in the middle of a busy work day.  As if this wasn’t already amazing enough, Ritual revamped the app to include the Ritual Rewards program in May.  With these changes, customers are now earning points that can be redeemed for free food from any of the restaurants included in Ritual’s coalition.

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 ritual earning

Ritual’s commitment to customer experience is a true testament to what it means to offer a valuable loyalty program.  Even though Ritual was already improving their customers’ lunchtime experiences, they wanted to push the boundary even further to better integrate with their customer’s lifestyle.  By rewarding them for every interaction, they’re able to show the same commitment to their customers that customers express to their app, embedding a strong reciprocity loop into the core of their business.

What We Learned from Ritual:

Make your loyalty program a lifestyle integration.



Bed Bath & Beyond’s BEYOND+ Customer Loyalty Program

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 bed bath beyond beyond+ home

Like Chipotle, Bed Bath & Beyond have approached loyalty a little bit differently.  BEYOND+ was introduced earlier this year as a beta customer loyalty program, meaning only a select number of customers were able to join and experience it.  While it may seem unorthodox to include a program that isn’t open to everyone, BEYOND+ is another fantastic example of what it means to truly design a rewards program for your customers.

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 bed bath beyond beyond+ benefits

Coupons have always been a huge part of Bed Bath & Beyond’s business.  Many shoppers will only visit the home decor store if they have guaranteed savings in their pocket.  Bed Bath & Beyond observed this behavior and developed BEYOND+ to meet this requirement.  For only $29 a year, BEYOND+ members receive 20% every purchase for a year.  When you consider that the average Bed Bath & Beyond shopper spends $120 per visit, these are significant savings, and offering such a high payoff ensures customers feel rewarded with every purchase.  

As Bed Bath & Beyond continues to refine their program, I’ll be very interested to see what the future holds!

What We Learned from Bed Bath & Beyond:

Use impactful rewards to demonstrate customer appreciation.



Glow Recipe’s Glow Miles Customer Loyalty Program

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I fell in love with the Glow Miles program immediately.  With cheeky puns and hand-drawn images, Glow Recipe has crafted a fully branded loyalty experience that is packed with personality.  From their witty program name (Glow Miles) to each of their three tiers (Glow-Getter, Glow-Jetter, and Glow-First) Glow Recipe has fully committed to their loyalty brand and fully integrated it into their larger brand.

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 glow recipe tiers

Each of these elements come together to create a seamlessly integrated customer loyalty experience.  When customers visit their site, the loyalty program is presented as a natural extension of the rest of their online experience, prompting customers to participate.  In a world of boring “Rewards Programs” where customers only earn “Points”, Glow Recipe’s commitment to adding fun and life to the loyalty landscape goes a long way.

What We Learned from Glow Recipe:

Fashion your loyalty program after your brand's distinct personality.


Nintendo’s My Nintendo Customer Loyalty Program

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I grew up playing Nintendo games with my brothers, so I might be a tiny bit biased with this one.  But the fact remains that Nintendo offers customers one of the best gamified loyalty experiences out there.  As a My Nintendo member, customers earn digital games and in-app exclusives by completing different missions.  These tasks have been divided into three categories: games, interactions, and purchases.  This organization gives members a broad range of ways to engage and earn, fitting into any gamer’s routine.

top 10 loyalty programs 2016 nintendo mario missions

This earning and redemption model is both extremely motivating and rewarding.  With a healthy mix of challenging and easy-win tasks, customers can easily measure their progress and track their successes.  To top it off, the program is also extremely well-branded, using their most famous characters to encourage customers to participate.  So while I may be biased, I think it’s pretty clear that My Nintendo is a fun way to celebrate customer loyalty.

What We Learned from Nintendo:

Encourage program participation with gamification.



Looking Forward to the Future of Customer Loyalty

All in all, 2016 was a fantastic year for customer loyalty programs.  Through innovation and experimentation, brands like Samsung Pay, Marvel, and Chipotle were able to radically alter how we think about customer loyalty.  Others like Nintendo, Glow Recipe, and Public Desire put themselves on the map with fully branded experiences, while Zappos, e.l.f., Ritual, and Bed Bath & Beyond used rewards programs to deliver more of what their customers want.  

No matter how they did it, these top loyalty programs of 2016 have set the stage for where loyalty is headed in 2017, and based on how these look I can’t wait to see what’s in store.

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