Although membership loyalty seems like a new trend, the fact is it has been around for many years.
In retail, warehouse clubs have been using membership models for years.
Costco and BJ’s have built their respective businesses around charging their customers a fee for access to discounts and bulk purchases.
BJ’s CEO Lee Delaney said during a 2020 earnings call that the company acquired and retained 18 months’ worth of members during a six-month period.
Meanwhile, from 2014 through the end of 2019 Costco membership jumped from 76 million to more than 98 million. In 2020 Costco had 105.5 million members, 111.6 million members in 2021 and, as of May 2023, it now has 124.7 million members.
These numbers are testament to the fact that memberships work in retail and in loyalty programs.
Why Does Membership Loyalty Work?
Points-based loyalty programs require your customers to transact over time to earn rewards later.
In today’s day and age of instant gratification, many consumers don’t want to wait for rewards.
That’s why memberships are everywhere.
Whether it’s streaming movies on Netflix or getting meal kits delivered every week, consumers are comfortable paying a membership fee if they receive value.
And that applies to loyalty as well.
A membership-based loyalty program, or premium loyalty program, creates a sense of exclusivity and rewards your customers immediately.
The paradigm is simple: The consumer invests in the brand and the brand rewards the customer in ways that a points-based loyalty program can’t touch.
Loyalty is a two-way street and a membership loyalty program accelerates and enhances customer relationships.
These programs focus on the retailer and its best customers by enticing them with value every step of the way.
Membership loyalty focuses on the long-term relationship with a customer.
Amazon Prime Changed Membership Loyalty Forever
The loyalty game changed in 2005 when Amazon introduced Prime, which has gained staggering success and now has more than 150 million global members.
At the time, Prime had a single benefit: Free shipping.
Amazon identified that shipping was the biggest pain point for its customers and every other ecommerce brand.
Consumers have a visceral reaction to paying shipping fees and it’s the No. 1 reason why people abandon shopping carts when shopping online.
Amazon changed the loyalty game when it introduced Prime because (for an annual fee) it alleviated the friction around buying online.
This is clear by the fact that Prime members spend twice as much as non-members.
In the past 15 years, Amazon has continued to add attractive benefits to Prime.
Benefits include music, movies, photo storage, and grocery delivery. These benefits make Prime a holistic program that touches every aspect of our lives.
Some traditional brick-and-mortar specialty brands have seen Prime’s global success and developed membership loyalty programs specifically designed for their brands.
For example, Restoration Hardware’s RH Members Program charges members a $100 annual fee in return for 25% savings on all full-priced items, an additional 20% savings on all sale items, interior design, concierge service to manage your orders, and early access to clearance events.
Every brand is not Amazon so it’s important to know what you are good at and, more importantly, what your customers want.
Can Walmart+ Rival Prime or Does It Have To?
Walmart’s recent of its Walmart+ premium loyalty program made headlines in the retail industry.
While some view it as competition for Prime, it seems as if both programs can coexist quite nicely given their respective benefits and target audiences.
Prime has been the answer for millions of members when it comes to convenience, product suggestions and entertainment streaming services.
Walmart+ will appeal to a different audience that prioritizes gas discounts, groceries, and in-store convenience.
Only time will tell, but it’s possible both these membership-based premium loyalty programs are valuable to many consumers who may very well participate in both.
Why Exclusivity Is Vital in Membership Loyalty
Ninety-four percent of Americans would take advantage of an exclusive offer, which is a compelling statistic for retailers to consider.
It revolves around that special feeling of exclusivity.
That feeling of exclusivity (like belonging to a country club, or another VIP-type club) makes a loyalty program more attractive, compelling, and desirable.
Sprinkle in exclusive and instant benefits and you create elevated engagement and brand advocacy.
When consumers feel a sense of exclusivity in a membership loyalty program, they engage more, spend more, and talk about your brand to their family and friends.
Consumers can easily be drawn to loyalty programs by discounts, but what they truly want is to be understood and treated special.
Membership, or premium, loyalty programs are so valuable to members that they become part of their daily lives.
Put a Premium Loyalty Program to Work for You in 2023
One thing the pandemic has shown is that consumers are changing their shopping habits and trying new things.
Now is the time to be bold.
Our 2022 Premium Loyalty Data Study shows that 77% of consumers not in a premium loyalty program would join if their brand offered one with valuable benefits.
Nearly 80% of premium loyalty members plan to join additional premium loyalty programs, according to the study; and 91% of consumers are likely to choose a brand whose premium loyalty program they belong to over a competitor with a lower price.
Membership-based premium loyalty programs are important in today’s marketplace because consumers have so many different shopping options.
They increase customer loyalty and retention by providing immediate value to customers.
In 2023, loyalty is critical: 73% of customers say their loyalty is more difficult for brands to maintain than ever before.
Translation: With limitless options available to consumers, earning loyalty today takes more than just a plastic punch card or weekly coupon.
To get loyalty, you must give loyalty.
Membership loyalty programs exemplify this paradigm.