When you hear the phrase “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”, what immediately comes to mind?  If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but picture snow covering the ground, pine trees covered in lights, and tons of stockings hung by the chimney.  When it comes to the holidays there’s a lot to be excited about and that goes double for ecommerce brands.

However, for ecommerce retailers it’s not enough to just get excited for the holidays - you need to get your site ready for them as well.  While the selling season between Black Friday and Christmas accounts for 50-100% more revenue than the rest of the year, competition is also much more intense during this time of year, particularly online.  Over 61% of all holiday shopping is done online, but with giants like Amazon trying to monopolize the ecommerce market, it can be incredibly difficult to make your brand stand out in the festive frenzy.

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With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about how you can make this holiday season (and the following year) your most profitable yet.  The key is to develop a business strategy that keeps customers engaged well into Q1, and the best tool for the job is a rewards program.

A strong rewards program is the best way to guarantee both short and long term wins for your business this holiday season.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s break it down.

How a Rewards Program Guarantees Short-Term Wins for the Holiday Season

When it comes to implementing a successful rewards program, it’s important to understand the goals and challenges you might face along the way.  In this case, the obvious obstacle is the excessive competitive discounting Christmas sales invite.  So as your customers begin to think of candy canes, sleigh bells, and how many gifts they need to buy, you’ll want to make sure they think of you first.

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A rewards program will help your brand cut through the Christmas clutter by offering something special for the three main types of holiday shoppers.

Holiday Shopper #1: The Discounter

There are few things as thrilling as saving a lot of money, especially during the bigger holidays. This is part of the magic that has made Black Friday and Cyber Monday two of commerce’s biggest days, and the driving force that expanded boxing day to a full week of savings.  Reality shows like Extreme Couponing have pushed deal-hungry shopping behaviors center stage, shining light on a large group of shoppers who are simply looking for the best deal.

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These shoppers are your easiest targets with a rewards program.  Since their introduction in the early 1900s, rewards programs have been synonymous with the concept of value.  This promise is especially appealing to customers who have a lot to buy with a potentially limited budget.  Offering them rewards in the form of dollars off discounts or free shipping are clear ways to show off the value your brand can provide.

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With simple but effective transactional rewards, your brand can be the thing that makes a customer’s busiest season just a little bit easier easier, and these considerations go a long way to building a lasting customer relationship.

Holiday Shopper #2: The Procrastinator

When it comes to Christmas shopping I tend to get it all done on time, however that puts me in the minority.  Around 90% of people have reported buying last minute gifts, and being in this position means they need to make quick purchase decisions.  With very little time and the desire to find the perfect gift, procrastinators are looking for all of the help they can get, and a rewards program puts your brand in the perfect position to be that source of wisdom.

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Effective rewards marketing is the best place to start with these shoppers.  Building an easy-to-find and easy-to-navigate explainer page is the best way to both inform customers about your program and get them excited to join.  Once they’ve joined, you can build on this with behavioral email marketing that reminds them to earn, redeem, and engage by buying gifts for everyone on their list.  This consistent and intentional promotion of value will groom them to make all future purchase decisions with your store.

You can even take this one step further with gift card rewards.  Gift cards are the ultimate last minute gift, and offering them as rewards gives your shoppers the chance to give their loved ones the gift of choice.  With transferable gift card rewards (available with awesome platforms like Smile.io), your store quickly becomes the hero all procrastinating shoppers need but don’t deserve.

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Holiday Shopper #3: The "Little Something Extra" Gifter

There’s something satisfying about finding the perfect little addition to a gift.  Whether it’s a bookmark for a book lover or a cute mug for a tea drinker, the “little something extra” gifter is always on the hunt for those perfect finishing touches.

Running bonus points campaigns is a quick way to drum up interest with these add-on focused shoppers.  By offering additional points on certain days or specific products, you can create a buzz around different parts of your brand that will entice shoppers to spend more with each transaction.  After all, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of rewards!

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Offering free or bonus products for your rewards program members is another easy way to attract these shoppers. I understand that this might sound like a costly incentive strategy, but that’s not actually the case.  With a rewards program, you can limit these types of offers to only the customers who have been members of your program for a certain length of time, or who make purchases over a certain amount.

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You can also distribute them as rewards that can only be used the next time they make a purchase, ensuring they’ll come back to your store in the future.  These parameters will not only help you prevent loyalty fraud but will also boost your program’s engagement rate by encouraging them to return in the future.

How a Rewards Program Guarantees Long-Term Success

We’ve spent a bit of time talking about the short-term benefits of running a rewards program, but what about the long-term?  As the saying goes, “Christmas comes but once a year”, so once you lock down Q4 there’s still 75% of the year to prepare for.

Luckily, holiday shopping is a strong foundation your rewards program can build on top of for the rest of the year.  Using the momentum created by Black Friday and Christmas shoppers, your rewards program can push that success even further by guaranteeing your customers will come back again and again.

Here are three ways your program can set your store up for long-term success.

Account Creation Rewards Encourage Commitment

No matter how long your program has been running, rewarding customers for creating an account is a fantastic strategy.  For one thing,”welcome rewards” act as a great conversion tool for anyone who might be on the fence about joining.  Promising them something in return for their time and interest encourages them to take the leap, and creates a greater chance of them going on to explore your brand in its entirety.

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Secondly, creating an account requires your customers to make a real commitment.  In the flurry of Christmas activity, customers can be easily tempted to use guest checkout as a way of speeding up the transaction process.  While this can save them time, it also results in less of an investment in your brand, which makes the customer less likely to remember or return to your store in the future.  By rewarding customers for creating an account with you, you create a reason for them to spend time with your brand both now and in the future.

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Customer accounts also give you the opportunity to keep in touch with your customers.  When shoppers agree to create an account, they are opening up a channel for you to connect with them later.  This gives you ample opportunities to engage them with exciting program promotions such as bonus campaigns and new features, keeping your rewards top of mind and an ongoing priority.


Future Redemption Rewards Guarantee Engagement

We touched on this idea earlier in our discussion of “little something extra” shoppers, but let’s dive a little deeper.

As we mentioned, rewards that can’t be redeemed until future purchases create a strong reason for customers to come back to your store.  The trick is making sure that the reward is actually worth their while.  ‘Tis the season for giving, don’t be skimpy!   Customers may not return in the new year for a 5% discount, but they might for 15%.  Offering substantial value showcases the generosity of both your brand and your rewards program, helping customers trust your store all the more easily.

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You can build a similar level of trust by reminding customers of when their rewards are going to expire.  Let’s say a customer signs up for your program over Christmas, and as a reward you offer them a 20% discount to be used the next time they shop with your store.  This discount is set to expire four months from their original purchase date, but as this date gets closer you realize that the customer still hasn’t returned.

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This scenario gives you the perfect opportunity to send that customer a friendly reminder that returning to your brand would benefit them.  This type of rewards marketing adds tons of value for the customer by informing them of the value they’ve already earned as a member of your program.  As a strategy that’s easy to incorporate into your preexisting re-engagement strategy, future redemption rewards are the gift that keeps on giving (to both you and your customers).

Post Purchase Referrals and Social Sharing Increase Marketing Potential

Nothing’s more important than a customer having trust in your brand.  If a customer doesn’t trust the experience you’re providing, they’re very unlikely to return, which is why you need to do everything in your power to convince shoppers that your brand is worth the investment.

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The problem is, customers don’t want to hear you describe how fantastic your brand is.  Quite the contrary, in fact!  Customers place significantly more trust in each other than in our brand, which means you need to empower your existing happy customers to join your marketing efforts.

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Integrating a referral program into your existing rewards program and/or offering incentives for sharing your products on social media are two practical and powerful ways to leverage your current customer’s experiences to create new ones.  When your customers’ contacts see how much others are enjoying your brand, they’ll be way more likely to explore what your store has to offer than if they stumbled upon it themselves.  In these ways, social and referral rewards are the perfect way to make your rewards program a win-win situation for both you and your customers.

The Long and the Short of Rewards Program Success

Hopefully by now it’s clear that a rewards program is a surefire way to amp up your customer experience and help prepare your brand for the holiday season.  The only thing left to discuss is when to get started, and the answer’s very simple: right now!

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While Christmas might still feel like a long way off, the reality is that a successful rewards program takes time to ramp up in order to be the most effective.  Starting your program during the busiest time of the year limits the number of customers who are likely to actively engage after the holidays simply because they won’t have had time to explore and understand its benefits before then.

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Ultimately, your program’s long term success is dependent on your ability to breed purchase behaviorsearly.  By focusing on the areas of your program that can appeal to holiday shoppers, you can begin to lay the foundations that will grow into bigger and better results in the new year.

So give yourself the best gift ever and start a rewards program today!  This’ll be one gift you definitely won’t want to return.

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