ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Customer loyalty has long been a key priority for marketers, but the pandemic's disruptions to supply chains tested those bonds in 2020. As shoppers emptied store shelves early in the crisis, many consumers were forced to try other stores and accept other brands. However, a new survey from Merkle finds that most consumers stayed loyal to a brand last year, demonstrating the importance of catering to consumer preferences during uncertain circumstances.
The marketing firm’s 2021 Loyalty Barometer Report survey found that 81% of consumers want to form a relationship with brands, a sign of their willingness to participate in loyalty programs. Discounts are the most popular loyalty reward, with 70% of consumers preferring those offers over free products (65%), free samples (51%), free services (48%) and a chance to win prizes (28%), MarketingDive.com reports. Consumers also like surprises, with 58% saying offers and gifts are the most important way for brands to interact with them and recognize their loyalty.
More than half (57%) of respondents said they stayed loyal to a brand despite of the events of 2020, which included COVID, social unrest and the heated U.S. presidential election. About half (49%) said those events hadn't stopped them from purchasing a brand.
Consumers want to feel like their loyalty and purchases matter, but the preferences for relationships can vary. The survey found that almost half (45%) of the respondents want to “feel like the brand appreciates my business,” while 14% said they wanted to feel like a brand “knows me.” Another 14% want to feel connected with the brand “on a common cause or set of values.”
While consumers like surprises and convenience, 40% of them said one of the most important ways to interact with them is by saying “thank you” for their business. The simple gesture costs nothing and resonates with people, demonstrating that a brand appreciates a customer's business and recognizes their role in the brand's success, Merkle noted.
Among consumers who switched brands in 2020, 18% said their old brand was unavailable, and 16% said a new brand offered a better discount or price than other options. Consumers can be persuaded to switch back, however, with 23% of survey respondents saying they would return to a brand if offered a discount.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.