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It’s time to renovate loyalty cards. Starting with Signup. Part 1

Ryan Lons

The concept of a loyalty card has been around for more than 200 years. Over the years, the concept of the loyalty card has grown and evolved. There is a great infographic here for the curious by BellyCard.com. Now with technology growing at an exponential rate, it's not surprising that the loyalty card has gotten mixed into the digital world. This is a good thing and it’s time to take the next step.

One of the not-so-secret things grocery stores do with loyalty cards is to track individual customers’ purchases in order to glean some insight about buying patterns. This helps keep fresh products in the store and balance the shelf stocking rates. Not too empty not too full. It also helps the stores offer more relevant coupons to customers in a more individualized fashion. This was a good and natural step, driven by optimization. Optimized tracking for stores and optimized coupon offerings for customers. That’s great and there is still room for dramatic improvement.

The next step is to make the paradigm shift from the customer being mostly a number in the corporate database to the customer having a real, honest to goodness, account with the grocery store. Too many loyalty cards treat the user as a number to be tracked, even if the customer’s name, address and email are collected as part of sign up. The loyalty card has become a keystone of customer-store interaction over the years. It needs to be reconsidered in light of digital technology, which is the new keystone developing for customer-store interaction.

The current state of affairs is little-to-no loyalty card & digital interaction. The best of the best (Wegmans’ app for example) allows you to log in to their mobile app to see things like your loyalty/rewards points, recent purchase, and maybe some relevant coupons. This is the start, but it still just scratches the surface of the potential awesomeness achievable from adequately marrying loyalty cards and digital technology.

How great it could be
I’ll admit I have pretty high standards when it comes to user experience design but I generally see that as a good thing. (Individuals who have to implement the design may disagree.) For this thought exercise on “Loyalty Cards 2.0” let's set the bar high and see what comes out of it.

Starting with sign up
This is for anyone who doesn’t have a card and wants to get one. This is also for individuals who have a loyalty card but never accessed your site or app. Getting started should be easier than filling our a dozen sets of boxes at the cash register at your store with 6 people standing behind them. It should also be more effective than just handing the customer a card and paper saying they can fill it out later, or online. You know they probably won't. Neither of these creates very good first impression.  You must provide easy online or mobile signup. This process should be very similar to the on-boarding process most social networks have. You have a social network with your stores, your shoppers are members of it, and their loyalty card is their account.

Signup should be quick!! I cannot stress this enough. Ideally, if in the store, the customer provides you an email address and you hand them their loyalty card. All the other information can be gathered later after you send them a short welcome email.

Online signup
If not initiated in store, the online process should start by collecting email, password, password validation and maybe… maybe first name. That’s it. That’s already too much, if you’re a little more alternative you can nix the password validate if you have a strong “recover password” workflow. Also, you should strongly consider allowing users to signup and sign in via Facebook. There are many advantages to this from easier user access to easier user profile completion.

Signup should reward the user immediately.
This is also true of first time sign in for individuals who already have an account with you by filling out the info card in store. So upon signing in, congratulate them, and give them a coupon that they can print out or present on their mobile phone. Do not overwhelm them with text about how great you are, do not force them into a walkthrough of all your fancy features, and do not force them to provide more information immediately. Upon sign up or first time sign in, they should be briefly congratulated, rewarded and then given full access to use your app or site.

What about getting their info?
Clearly it benefits both you and the customer to have them fill out their profile more completely, even if they signed up via Facebook and you have basic information like first and last name, email and DOB you might need more. Make it obvious where to do this on your user interface. Use a “call to action” with a promise of reward, possibly another coupon. It should be obvious without impeding the use of the app or website. Try to get the user to fill out their profile information completely or at least consciously opt out of item if they don’t wish to fill them out. You want the user invested in their account here because you’re going to be invested in providing value to them via their account.

First impressions are easy to screw up in the world of mobile. Often users can be unforgiving and aren’t willing to deal with a complicated onboarding process. Getting it right is an art and takes tweaking but if your guiding principle is “less is more” then you’ve already solved half of your challenges.

Part 2 here