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Moving Forward: The 3 Most Important Loyalty Lessons of 2020, According to Major Brands

Last year we launched a Moving Forward Blog Series, where we asked major brands how they adapted to changing consumer expectations and how it impacted their perspective on customer loyalty during the pandemic.

Here are the biggest takeaways from brands like The Giant Company,, Sleep Number, Celebrity Cruises, Best Western, and Chipotle.

Hopefully, these lessons will help you move forward into 2021 and continue building loyalty and better relationships with your customers.


1. Meet Customers’ Needs Through Your Loyalty Program

This seems like an obvious lesson, but many traditional loyalty programs have remained relatively unchanged, especially over the past year.

Emily Mikus, Director of Loyalty & Shopper Marketing, The GIANT Company, said her company is always seeking ways to deepen customer relationships. One way GIANT adapted to different customer behavior was by providing relevant solutions that help families connect at home.

New behaviors afford us the opportunity to connect with families in new and/or different ways,” Emily explained. “One such example is the increase of cooking and baking at home since the pandemic. In response, we have placed even more emphasis on meal solutions than ever before. We have also adjusted plans in the back half of the year to prioritize ‘reward and retain’ strategies, with a significant emphasis on personalization.”

While GIANT customers have remained loyal, Emily said their shopping behaviors have changed and adjustments were necessary.

The personalization strategy we have within GIANT Choice Rewards allows us to do this, fostering connections that are relevant and meaningful,” Emily explained.

Read the full interview with Emily Mikus here.


“…we’ve seen the gap between spend levels of loyalty-engaged vs. non-engaged customers widen significantly during/post-COVID, further validating the payoff of a strong loyalty program.” – Emily Mikus, Director of Loyalty & Shopper Marketing, The GIANT Company


In today’s environment, consumers are looking to connect with others and express themselves more than ever, according to Neil O’Keefe, V.P. Enterprise CRM and Loyalty Marketing, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM.

People are looking for ways to let others know they are being thought of, and customers have been increasingly turning to our family of brands to send food, flowers, and other gifts to loved ones for every day and special occasions,” Neil explained.

According to McKinsey & Company, 77% of consumers have tried a new shopping behavior and more than a third of those people have tried new brands, retailers, and websites.

This statistic highlights how important it is for your brand to always offer value, so your customers won’t look elsewhere.

Moving forward, we believe people will continue to place greater importance on connecting with others and expressing themselves as we come out of this health crisis,” Neil said. “We will go back to basics–prioritizing the relationships in our lives and staying more connected. To secure the loyalty of our customers, we as a company are focused on helping people express, connect, and celebrate.”

Read the full interview with Neil O’Keefe here.


2. Your Loyalty Program Needs to Be Flexible and Adaptable

Being engaged with your customers is a great thing in the retail world.

And, due to the pandemic, showing your adaptability and flexibility was key for brands regarding customer engagement and retention.

Lisa Erickson, Sr. Director Loyalty & CRM, Sleep Number Corp., said the start of the pandemic was challenging from a customer engagement perspective since most company stores were closed and those physical experiences were missing.

We sell a premium product that our customers want to try out in our stores, as well as experience the fabulous selling process we have in our stores to find them the right sleep solution,” Lisa explained.

But Lisa said the company adapted swiftly.

We were able to quickly transition our selling models to allow our sales professionals to sell from home, drive more sales to our website, and ask customers on our website if they would like a call back from a sales professional,” she said. “This new model worked well for us.”

The pandemic, Lisa explained, has stressed the importance of health and wellness and that sleep plays a very important role in a person’s overall health.

This positioned Sleep Number well since we are a health and wellness brand focusing on sleep,” Lisa added. “And with our SleepIQ platform, we can provide better sleep. So, our customers wanted content that helps them with their overall health and wellness, as well as educate them about our SleepIQ features that can help them make the best decisions regarding getting their best sleep.”

Lisa described Sleep Number’s InnerCircle Rewards program as an engagement program that rewards members (referred to as Loyal Insiders) for staying engaged with the brand by reading content on sleep, health, and wellness. Company officials ask members for feedback on a regular basis, which is a key engagement tool, she added.

Sharing Insider stories and tips keeps them engaging,” Lisa said. “We want to help our Loyal Insiders sleep their best and live a healthy life.”

Read the full interview with Lisa Erickson here.


“The more engaged with the brand they are, the more likely they are to become our best brand advocates.” – Lisa Erickson, Sr. Director Loyalty & CRM, Sleep Number Corp.


Andrea Shey, Director of Loyalty Marketing, Celebrity Cruises, explained that new consumer behaviors since the pandemic started will have a lasting impact. The way people live their lives now will shift into how they travel and vacation, she added. Celebrity Cruises is doing everything it can for customers to engage easily and seamlessly.

Digital and mobile capabilities will take on new meaning as we move toward minimizing touch points and creating a more seamless and efficient experience for guests, from booking their tickets to embarking on their vacations,” Andrea said.

Celebrity Cruises’ mobile app empowers guests with scheduled arrival times, expedited boarding, digital stateroom keys, stateroom automation, and many other features crucial to new health and safety practices that require social distancing. Celebrity Cruises invested in its e-commerce platform to make every part of the user journey seamless.

With all the cruises that were suspended, we added the ability for members to redeem their Future Cruise Credits directly online without having to talk to an agent,” Andrea added. “We also added a new ‘Loyalty Hub’ where members can get all their loyalty information in one place including their points balances, tier benefits, points required to get to the next tier, upcoming sailings, and special offers.”

Everything Celebrity Cruises is planning for its Healthy Return to Service is based on the research and guidance of its Healthy Sail Panel of leading medical and public health experts, the CDC, and guests.

We need to understand how they are feeling about traveling, what it would take to get them back onboard one of our ships, and how we could make them feel safe,” Andrea said.

Read the full interview with Andrea Shey here.


3. Show Your Loyal Customers You Care About Them

This should go without saying, but sometimes having a loyalty program can feel like a box to check. But a loyalty program isn’t just a tactic.

Best Western has had an elite loyalty program for many years but obviously hadn’t experienced a global pandemic before.

BW has received many accolades over the years for its loyalty program. But the pandemic posed new challenges. Tammy Lucas, Vice President of Marketing for Best Western Hotels & Resorts, wanted to show the company’s loyalty program members how much they were appreciated.

We wanted to show them just how much we care, so we were the first brand to announce that we were extending their Elite Status until 2022,” Tammy explained.

Best Western also continued to offer a variety of booking and promotional incentives to those that continued to travel.

Also, Best Western has a Travel Card BOGO offer that gives customers a $20 Travel Card as a bonus for every $100 Travel Card they purchase. Company officials are offering Free Nights and Travel Cards at reduced point values, which provides an even stronger value proposition to Best Western Rewards members.

These great offers are ways for us to ensure that we are responding to the needs of our customers, and we will continue to do so in the future,” she added.

Read the full interview with Tammy Lucas here.

Jason Scoggins, Director, Loyalty & CRM, Chipotle, said that company officials have seen an increase in new loyalty program members in recent months, driven primarily by customers discovering the brand through digital channels. Many customers have pivoted to digital ordering.


“..we are constantly reaching out to our customer base (both members and non-members) to find out what they want from the program. From there we figure out how to deliver that while making sure that whatever the enhancement is, that it feels authentic and on-brand…”Jason Scoggins, Director, Loyalty & CRM, Chipotle


Coming out of the pandemic, we are really focused on leveraging Chipotle Rewards to keep those customers engaged – whether that’s driving continued behavior toward our digital channels or introducing them to our in-restaurant experiences,” Jason explained.

Last summer Chipotle officials took customer insights they gathered and targeted specific customer segments with bonuses to further encourage the order ahead behavior.

For Chipotle Rewards, we are constantly reaching out to our customer base (both members and non-members) to find out what they want from the program,” Jason added. “From there we figure out how to deliver that while making sure that whatever the enhancement is, that it feels authentic and on brand for Chipotle.”

Read the full interview with Jason Scoggins here.


Always Be Loyal to Your Customers

Although this is always true, it applies more now than ever. Moving forward into 2021, consumers want to build relationships with the brands that they been there for them.

These six brands have expertly displayed top-notch loyalty and engagement strategies during a difficult period for everyone.

They never stopped listening to their customers and, if anything, listened more closely. And they adapted to changing consumer behaviors during the pandemic to retain their loyal customers and elevate engagement levels.

Moving forward, these six brands exemplified what it means to show loyalty to your customers.

And that’s exactly what consumers want and need.


ebbo helps brands achieve their customer loyalty goals with full-service, end-to-end solutions and also creates original educational content straight from the experts to help loyalty marketers stay on the cutting edge of customer engagement.

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