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CB4’s 1st Annual Apparel Retail Loyalty Awards

As traditional brick-and-mortar retailers fend against online rivals, loyalty programs are becoming crucial for meeting shoppers’ expectations and earning repeat business. Seeking to earn allegiance from customers who face a growing cornucopia of choices, today’s incentive programs are no longer focused solely on making the next sale. They aim to build a customer relationship for life.

In 2018 alone, nearly 15% of department stores launched or revamped their loyalty programs. Aiming to differentiate themselves by offering more than discounts or giveaways, more retailers are striving to create holistic experiences that resonate with their customer’s interests. The most creative programs – the ones below – look beyond the sale to influence their lives outside the store.

Here are CB4’s awards for the apparel loyalty programs that inspired us most this year and generated the most consumer buzz.


Most Strategic Loyalty Partnership: Abercrombie & Fitch’s “A&F Club”

Revamping its A&F Club to boost dragging sales, Abercrombie & Fitch capitalized on the millennial tendency that places high value on life experiences.  By partnering with SBE, a company that operates 22 trendy hotels, multiple restaurants, and entertainment hubs, Abercrombie offers A&F Club members a unique experience with a memorable backdrop.  The strategy allowed A&F Club to reach 5 million members in the first year after its relaunch. With A&F members spending nearly twice as much on average as non-members, the apparel retailer’s plan appears to be a success.

Popular perks of Abercrombie’s loyalty program include:

  • Exclusive Abercrombie events at partner SBE’s hotels, including the introduction of Abercrombie’s new denim connection showcased at the Mondrian Los Angeles.
  • Access to special pricing promotions and sales
  • Entry to contests to win special VIP access to events held by SBE and its strategic partners, including grand openings

Abercrombie & Fitch recognized an opportunity to combat slow sales by extending its brand reach. The retailer built a top loyalty program on the basis that engaged customers spend more and visit its stores more often.


Best Insider Perks: Van’s “Vans Family”

Inspired by 1960s skating culture, Vans has enjoyed continued success as a popular sneaker brand with cross-generational appeal. Teens love the retro style, and adults enjoy the nostalgic, vintage appeal. The retailer conceived its Vans Family loyalty program as a strategy to deepen the relationship between the customer and his or her experience. Customers earn points by purchasing products and engaging with the brand.  A mobile app allows them to track points, redeem awards and access other lifestyle content.

Vans Family provides:

  • Members-only benefits including contests, previews to upcoming new releases, and insider information
  • Access to exclusive designs to customize footwear and accessories
  • An opportunity for customers to engage by posting their own experiences and sharing opinions

The sneaker retailer’s top loyalty program successfully meshes the brand’s trademark authenticity with a personal connection that appeals to customers. Social media-hungry teens gravitate toward programs that encourage them to share their lives and show off their creativity with custom designs.  Meanwhile, the program allows adults to get in touch with their inner skater and enjoy a throwback to their younger days.


Most Personalized Loyalty Program: Nordstrom’s “Nordy Club”

Nordstrom decided to combat declining sales by revamping its customer loyalty program.  By originally making loyalty rewards available to only those customers with Nordstrom’s credit cards, the retailer was missing an opportunity to reach the larger market. Now Nordy Club customers strive to unlock new benefits through a tiered points system. For card members, the rewards are even better.

The department store’s loyalty program allows members to:

  • Preview and purchase new brands and products before they become available to the public, attend free style and beauty workshops, free alterations, get curbside pickup service, and reserve items online to try on at the store.
  • Receive priority access to Nordstrom’s fashion shows, as well as their exclusive events (for higher-tiered members). They also earn early access to the “Clear the Rack” sale at Nordstrom Rack and receive an extra 25% discount on clearance items.
  • Book a stylist for an in-home consultation (top-tier members).

The Nordy Club’s success lies in its ability to reach and recognize a wide swath of customers. By offering benefits to both cardholders and general consumers, its tiered points system can engage more shoppers.


Most Out-of-the-Box Perks: Nike’s “NikePlus”

Nike knows its customers. Through the sportswear retailer’s mobile apps, Nike engages and rewards members who share their common passion to be the best. Customers accumulate points as they make purchases or complete workouts. The program has proven successful because customers who are engaged through the app tend to spend more money than those who are not.

With a focus on customer experience, Nike’s top loyalty program expanded to include:

  • New partnerships to bring more personalized and unique services to members. Rewards include free playlists through Apple Music, new workouts through ClassPass, and access to meditation content.
  • Customized promotions on workouts and sporting events by matching discounts to consumer preference.
  • Exclusive experiences. Members get early access to new products, a separate entrance to Nike’s Manhattan store, and a prototype vending machine in California that doles out free merchandise to members.

Nike successfully engages with their customers through a variety of channels. Partnering with related categories from music to meditation, the brand built a top loyalty program with more touchpoints to its customers’ lives.


Most Targeted Loyalty Program: Victoria’s Secret’s “Pink Nation”

Victoria’s Secret is using its Pink Nation loyalty program to counter a three-year consecutive plunge in same store sales. Although the retailer commands 63% of the lingerie market, its hold continues to weaken in the post-#MeToo era as women choose comfort over sex appeal. They’re betting that the solution is a new social platform that offers compelling content while weaving exclusive, members-only benefits to make Pink Nation more than just an app, but a way of life.

Aimed at college-aged clientele, the brand’s loyalty program offers:

  • Exclusive access to membership-only benefits
  • In-app games and relevant content to encourage continued engagement
  • A grass-roots sorority that engages young women to share their experiences

Targeting the tech-savvy Generation Z customer, Pink Nation aims to stand apart from the some-odd 80 apps gracing the average college student’s iPhone. By appealing to the younger generation’s thirst for technology, exclusivity and community, Victoria’s Secret is courting up-and-coming consumers who may stick with the brand throughout their adult lives.


Most Creative Way to Earn Points: Reebok’s “Reebok Unlocked”

Facing a slump in sales and a decline in brand awareness, Reebok designed its Unlocked loyalty program with a focus on brand interaction and customer engagement. Customers earn points when they shop, but the Unlocked program sets itself apart by rewarding them for interacting with the brand in other ways, such as leaving product reviews, sharing their Reebok experiences on social media, and attending events.

Rewards improve as customers progress through the program’s four tiers. Members receive:

  • free shipping, easy returns, and a gift on their birthday
  • direct access to a VIP customer phone number and surprise exclusive offers
  • exclusive access to Reebok products before they are released to the public
  • free training and workout plans at the Premier level
  • passes to exclusive product releases or events, a 30-day subscription for on-demand workouts, fitness certifications and access to limited edition Reebok merchandise

Reebok rewards customers for acting as influencers, touting the benefits of its merchandise to their friends and followers. Allowing users to earn points for actions beyond making purchases creates additional opportunity to build connection.


The Bigger Picture in Apparel Loyalty

Many retailers built or revamped their loyalty programs to fight flagging sales, but these initiatives are quickly becoming crucial even for bullish brands. Top loyalty programs engage shoppers beyond the purchase, inviting them to participate in a brand-based lifestyle. Customers thrive on this emotional connection, which drives them to spend nearly twice as much as the casual consumer.

Our winners’ programs provide access to a world within the brand, creating the community experience that today’s customer craves.

The trend will continue as retailers try to capture the next generation of customers. Savvy businesses are building their loyalty programs now to learn how to cater to younger consumers’ habits and preferences. Retailers who wait may find that their Gen Z shoppers have been claimed by the competition.


CB4 helps some of the top apparel retailers inspire loyalty by ensuring that their stores aren’t suffering from in-store issues that make beloved products hard to find. Implementation is easy and we can deliver a PoC in days. Interested in learning what CB4 could do for your business? Let’s connect.

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