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U.S. consumers hold 3.8 billion memberships in customer loyalty programs, according to the 2017 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census, featuring for the first time COLLOQUY's traditional audit coupled with consumer survey research. This article is copyright 2017 The Best Customer Guide.

The 3.8 billion tabulation shows that membership growth continues, but has slowed to 15% compared to the 26% growth rate achieved in the 2015 Census when total memberships were 3.3 billion.

The new consumer survey research from the 2017 Census shows that 53% of U.S. consumers identified "easy to use" as the main reason for participating in a loyalty program, topping "gives me great discounts" (39%) and "easy to understand" (37%), among other reasons.

Conversely, the top reason given for abandoning a program was "it took too long to earn points or miles;" a concern cited by 57% of respondents.

Additionally, the COLLOQUY Census shows that 51% of Americans still trust loyalty programs with their personal information.

The latest COLLOQUY Census scratched beyond the surface and analyzed motivators that drive consumer loyalty behavior. The survey research shows that across all sectors the top motivator is, I love the brand, company, retailer or service - purely emotional.

In other key Census results, the retail sector accounts for 1.6 billion reward program memberships, making it the largest slice of the loyalty pie. The biggest driver for active participation within retail is that the program is "easy to understand."

Notably, grocery program memberships dropped to 142 million, compared to 188 million in 2015, continuing a downward trend in three consecutive Census reports. The 24% decrease is due in part to mergers and acquisitions within the industry.

Memberships in the financial services sector continued an upward trend, rising to 664 million versus 578 million in 2015. Cash back incentives led the pack when respondents were asked why they participate in financial loyalty programs.

The travel and hospitality sector, covering airline and hotel programs, plus restaurant, car-rental, cruise line and gaming programs, accounts for 1.1 billion memberships, the 2017 Census shows.

One of the most dynamic loyalty sectors, identified as other/emerging, covers online-only offerings, entertainment, daily deals, point aggregators and card-linked offers. Census research shows U.S. consumers hold a total of 462 million memberships in these evolving programs, and this sector accounts for 12% of the U.S. loyalty market.

The insights uncovered in the 2017 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census can help brands and companies create deeper loyalty and better experiences for consumers. To continue the discussion, COLLOQUY will host a webinar Wednesday, August 16th with advice on turning the results into meaningful change. Registration information will be available on starting July 19.

"The membership growth slowdown signals the U.S. loyalty market is maturing and retailers need to up their game on how to attract and retain members within their loyalty programs," said Melissa Fruend, LoyaltyOne Global Solutions partner and COLLOQUY Census author. "In order to improve loyalty marketing, brands must optimize the overall experience by creating more personalized and relevant experiences for their best customers."