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The British are officially a nation of loyal customers, according to research from the Nectar programme's owner and operator, Aimia, which found that £1 in every £7 worth of household spending is tied to a loyalty programme. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

But the country's banks are lagging a long way behind supermarkets and retailers in terms of genuine customer loyalty. Nearly half (49%) of British consumers admitted their apparent loyalty to banks and building societies is actually based on length of relationship and apathy to changing providers.

With 58% of communications issued by banks and building societies regarded as "irrelevant" by consumers, banks should therefore take note following the country's recently introduced "seven day switch" policy designed to make it easier and less time-consuming for people to change banks.

The 'Aimia Loyalty Lens' report identified consumer sentiments over a range of topics, and also examined their attitudes toward technology, and concerns about sharing their personal data.

The report noted a significant contrast between the worst performers - such as banks - and the best: the grocery sector. Three out of four people (75%) in the UK are members of supermarket loyalty programmes, and the sector has been commended for sending out the most targeted communications of all industries surveyed.

Over the past decade, supermarkets that have emerged as the leaders in loyalty. By overlaying their offers with reliable customer data, the grocery sector sends only the most targeted communications to their customers.

"With 87% of UK consumers now participating in loyalty schemes, it appears loyalty programmes play a key part in modern household spending," said Jan-Pieter Lips, president (EMEA) for Aimia. "Twenty years ago £1 in every £100 of household spend was linked to a loyalty scheme, but today it is £1 in every £7."

The report found that loyalty remains an underexploited area in telecoms, fashion and - perhaps surprisingly - in airlines, as only 12% of the UK's population are members of fashion, airline or mobile phone loyalty schemes.

But despite the report finding that consumers are willing to be loyal, and that loyalty programmes are clearly popular, it also highlight several warnings for businesses:

  • 73% of consumers said they felt that companies are unclear about how they use personal information;
  • 76% of consumers believe that companies only ask for personal information in order to sell it or target them with advertising and direct mail;
  • 38% of consumers said they provide false details to avoid giving away their personal information, rising to 50% for those aged 18-24, which poses a genuine problem in terms of customer data quality;
  • Consumers trust banks and their places of work the most with their data, with a ranking of 8.2 (out of 10) and 6.9 respectively, which is much higher than their level of trust in social networks at only 2.6.

Interestingly, the study found that it tends to be the wealthier consumers who are making the most of loyalty schemes, with those earning above £90,000 a year holding more than 7 loyalty cards on average, compared to only 4 cards for those earning below £30,000 a year.

"While there is a clear link between the wealthy and niche programmes such as frequent flyers, the 'thrifty rich' are also embracing more everyday loyalty schemes. They are proving to be savvy spenders, embracing a wide range of loyalty programmes and allowing their money to stretch further than before," concluded Lips.