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Customer Loyalty Topic of Packed Session

30 Jul, 2003 By: Jessica Wolf

It was standing room only at the first session of this year's show “The Art of Customer Loyalty,” where attending retailers got tips and pitches on developing specific customer-retention programs using gift cards, store-value cards and permission-based e-mail programs.

“It's the first time I remember opening a seminar with a full house in the last couple of years,” said VSDA director of membership Mark Fisher.

Randy Fine of Harrah's Corp., whose four-tiered Total Rewards customer loyalty program boasts 27 million members, outlined the requirements of a successful loyalty program. The most effective are simple to understand, he said. To offer the consumer some level of control, the rewards have to be both “attainable and aspirational,” with continued purchases earning both easy-to-gain freebies or bonuses as well as more high-ticket promos. And having a network component, like a series of locations where customers can redeem rewards, is a major benefit, Fine said.

It's not news that loyalty programs keep customers coming back. Several retailers in the audience mentioned things they already offer, like free popcorn or free rentals with rental “miles” earned.

LeAnn Powers, executive sales director for Valutee Card Solutions offered ideas for implementing newer ideas like gift cards, store-value cards or loyalty cards.

It's different than the old days of paper certificates, she noted. With plastic, the retailer keeps the money in the store, rather than dishing out change for unused balances on paper certificates. The money's in the bank before any services or goods are rendered and plastic provides a cool factor, especially for younger video consumers like gamers. Plastic cards offer marketing and advertising opportunities with art on the cards themselves.

“We've seen a 30 percent to 50 percent lift in gift certificate sales moving from paper to plastic simply because they're displayed on the countertop,” she said.

Mark Wilson, director of sales for Loyalcustomerclub.com, an e-mail retention Internet company owned by coupon magazine Clipper, outlined the benefits and challenges of developing a dedicated permission-based e-mail list retailers can use to send regular e-mail blasts.

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