Launching a loyalty program is expensive and it’s complex. In the US alone, companies spend a staggering $2 billion on loyalty programs every year. But does this translate into increased customer engagement? Research suggests the answer is “probably not”. The average household in the US has over 21 loyalty program memberships. But, the household only actively uses 44% of these. More than half of consumers in a 2013 survey admitted they had abandoned at least one loyalty program in the past year. Our own analysis of customer sentiment on social media revealed pronounced dissatisfaction. Almost 90% of social media sentiment on loyalty programs was negative.

We assessed loyalty programs on a number of parameters. These included their central objective, their use of digital channels, and their ability to provide a seamless experience across channels (more detail on the approach is at the end of this paper). We found, in short, that companies have a lot of catching up to do. 97% of loyalty programs rely on transactional rewards, i.e. a customer makes a purchase and takes their points in exchange for gifts, merchandise or cash. The issue is that 77% of those transaction-based programs actually fail in the first two years. According to our research, only 25% of loyalty programs reward customers for some form of engagement. Where loyalty programs are also lacking is advanced personalization: only 11% of loyalty programs offer personalized rewards based on a customer’s purchase history or location data.

This research highlights why organizations need to think beyond points and how they can implement well-designed, engagement-based loyalty programs.