Many retailers the world over are very much out of touch with consumers, who are demanding more and more personalized experiences, and who also increasingly discover new brands and affirm purchase decisions through social influencers, according to a global study by Oracle which examined both consumer perceptions and brand realities of loyalty programs and buying influences. This article is copyright 2018 The Best Customer Guide.

The study, entitled 'Retail 2018: The Loyalty Divide' was conducted among 13,000 consumers and 500 operators across retail, hotels and restaurants in five key regions: EMEA (France, Germany, UK and India), North America (USA), Latin America (Brazil and Mexico) and JAPAC (Australia and China).

The great divide
While 58% of retailers believe that consumers are eager to sign up to every loyalty program, 50% of consumers are much more selective only signing up to select, relevant programs and 19% of consumers rarely joining loyalty programs. Relevancy of loyalty incentives also further highlights the divide between brands and consumers: 58% of retailers believe their offers are mostly relevant compared to 32% of consumers believing those brand offers are relevant. Retailers continue to underestimate the impact of social influencers with only 45% of brands collaborating with influencers while consumers are more likely to trust brands reviewed by YouTubers (48%) and brands mentioned on social media (45%).

The Future of Loyalty
Despite the great divide, the future of loyalty is promising with younger demographics having a higher propensity to join loyalty programs and note their loyalty is growing. However a majority of retailers have a skewed focus on measuring loyalty with intrinsic values like brand perception and purchase history:

  • 44% of millennials (25-34) and 43% of pre-millennials (18 to 24) note they are more loyal to brands than they were five years ago
  • Baby boomers (55+) are discerning when it comes to signing up for programs with 56% of respondents noting they will only sign up to select, relevant programs

The Rise of Social Advocacy
Consumers have clearly indicated the necessity for retailer's to have a strong social presence and the importance of social influencers in discovering new brands and affirming purchases:

  • 53% of consumers are likely to research brands on social media before buying
  • 46% are likely to save ideas on social media about products or retailers
  • 43% are likely to share photos of retail experiences/products on social media
  • 43% are likely to follow influencers that post about favorite retail brands
  • 41% of consumers agree that YouTube reviews are more trustworthy than branded advertising or communications
  • 37% of consumers agree that retailers used and recommended by social media influencers are more trustworthy than those recommended by celebrities

Despite this trend, 28% of retailers will only take into account measures of loyalty based on activities such as loyalty card membership or transaction frequency.

Personalization: Connected and Immediate
For brands to remain relevant they need to create loyalty programs that recognize consumers as individuals with a level of service that goes beyond the traditional brand experience:

  • 69% of consumers note personalized offers based on stated preferences as appealing
  • 66% of consumers note personalized offers based on purchase history as appealing
  • 58% of consumers note personalized content and communications as appealing
  • 82% of consumers note store proximity is most important in driving loyalty
  • 74% of consumers note immediate benefits are more appealing than accumulating points
  • 72% of consumers note an effortless loyalty program with automatic offers is appealing

"Retailers are heavily invested. The future of loyalty will be a balancing act between consumers desire for more anonymity, or at least direct control of their data, and an expectation for meaningful personalization that is targeted and timely," said Webster. "Oracle Retail is helping our customers defend the right to be forgotten and pivot to earn the right to be remembered. We believe the answer is a new approach to segmentation that integrates advanced algorithms and machine learning into the retail business process that govern planning, inventory and pricing."

The Right to Data and the Role of Technology
Both consumers and retailers recognize that technology has a key role in driving connection and convenience in loyalty programs. Retailers, however, need to walk a fine line between enabling deeper connections without being invasive:

  • 30% of consumers find receiving recommendations for products or brands based on social influencers subscribed to or followed as unappealing compared to 90% of retailers that think this would be appealing to consumers
  • 26% of consumers find artificial intelligence on a mobile device that gets to know the user through voice recognition and is able to make intelligent recommendations based on this as unappealing compared to 91% of retailers that think this would be appealing to consumers
  • 91% of consumers note being able to accept or reject offers so that the retailer loyalty program can learn what products and offers are of most interest as appealing
  • 86% of consumers note a personalized experience with retail brands where staff and customer support know personal preferences to better service customers as appealing
  • 52% of retailers think consumers are concerned about data being passed onto third parties while - 81% of consumers say they'd consider removing their personal information if they could and 53% of consumers are concerned that their data is being passed onto third parties

Loyalty Types
The study uncovered four typologies of consumer behavior including: The Broadcaster who may flit between brands but shouts about their experiences good or bad; The Enthusiast an engaged retail brand follower who is loyal but not loud; The Lazy Loyal typically unengaged but tend to be loyal to brands because it's easy to be; and, The Seeker who likes to shop around for the best value and holds little affinity to retail brands.

The Broadcaster:

  • 32% of consumers will recommend to others the retailers they are most loyal to
  • 41% would share photos on social media of great retail experiences in exchange for rewards
  • 47% would feature the retailer or its products on their social media accounts in exchange for offers / rewards
  • 42% would submit a product review through YouTube in exchange for an offer / reward

The Enthusiast:

  • 43% of consumers are most loyal to brands that they have a high opinion of
  • 1 in 5 consumers (20%) will follow their favorite brands on social media
  • 71% say product quality and 59% an enjoyable shopping experience are most important to them
  • 51% say it's important that they can engage with new and exciting products from brands they are loyal to

The Lazy Loyal:

  • 60% say convenient store locations are most important to them
  • More than 1 in 3 (40%) will typically stick to the brands they like rather than shop around
  • 1 in 4 consumers would not find a loyalty program that can be used across multiple brands appealing
  • 72% think an effortless loyalty program where points are automatically redeemed is appealing

The Seeker:

  • 66% choose a retailer because of competitive prices / promotions
  • 56% would exchange personal details in exchange for a personalized offer or promotion
  • 53% of consumers would always 'shop around' for different retailers to shop with
  • Almost 1 in 5 (19%) would rarely sign up to retailer loyalty programs

"In our primary research, we have uncovered a disparity between consumer and retailer expectations. Retailers put significant focus on transactional activity metrics and less focus on emerging behavioral expressions of loyalty. We found that retailers are overly confident in their ability to deliver relevant incentives and consumers are demanding more personalized engagement," said Mike Webster, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Retail and Hospitality. "Retailers need to take a critical eye at the culture of shoppers that only engage based on convenience and price. Social influence brings an additional dynamic for retailers to navigate the loyalty paradigm as they reward brand advocacy and feed enthusiasts content to affirm their purchases."