How COVID-19 is impacting customer loyalty – June update

We’re heading into June and though across the globe, small yet positive steps are being taken to beat Coronavirus, all around us we are hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. But what does that look like when it comes to ecommerce and customer loyalty? Let’s take a look at the data from May and find out. 

Over the past three months, we have been tracking four key things, using loyalty data taken from over 600 stores using LoyaltyLion: 

  1. The purchase behaviors of loyalty program members
  2. The value of loyalty program members versus guest shoppers
  3. The likelihood of loyal customers to act as advocates
  4. The propensity for customers to kickstart new brand relationships

You may remember that looking back at April, we brought you a relatively good news story – loyal customers continued to purchase steadily and remained more valuable than guest shoppers, and the chances of customers acting as advocates had increased significantly. The downside was that customers were no more likely to stop and spend time creating accounts than they were in March. 

So what happened in May? 

Your existing customers

Having risen consistently across April, member orders saw a dip in May, They have however, remained steadily higher than they were in the last week of February before the initial impact of COVID-19 hit.

1
Orders from loyalty program members

Program engagement has also seen a downturn in May. Having spiked at the end of April, both the number of points earned and the number of points redeemed fell notably in May. Figures do remain on average, 15% higher than they were in the last week of February or throughout March, suggesting that shoppers are still interacting with the brands they know and love. 

3
Program activity – points earned / redeemed variation

However, given that guest orders have followed a very similar falling trend, it seems that consumer activity as a whole has slowed in the month of May. This could be a sign that people are becoming more used to their new way of life and have less need to continually purchase items to help them adapt. Yet it could also be attributed to the easing of lockdown in many geographies – with more chances to leave the house and interact with friends and family, there are fewer opportunities to sit and spend online.  

With this in mind, it’s important that brands don’t sit back and allow customers to forget about them, but rather use this time to entice hard-earned customers back to purchase again. How do we recommend doing this? 

  • First and foremost, give customers reminders to return – use points balance statement and reward available reminder emails to bring shoppers back again

  • Secondly, run time-based incentives such as double or bonus points promotions in order to encourage that next purchase sooner

Why is this more important than simply going out and trying to acquire more new customers? Well, despite order numbers falling, the average order value of a loyalty program member in May remained on average, 20% greater than the average order of a guest shopper. 

Your loyal advocates

Looking back at April’s data, we saw a significant increase in the number of program members leaving reviews and making referrals. Though the number of customers who are acting as advocates remains comfortably higher than it was at the end of February or throughout March, it has taken a downturn again. Fewer customers have taken the time to leave a review or make a referral in May, than in April. 

4
Review and referral activity

As noted above, this could simply be because people are spending less time in front of their screens with new changes to lockdowns. However, while acquisition channel costs and effectiveness continue to fluctuate, brands should not miss the opportunity to turn the customers that shopped with them last month into advocates this month. What quick wins can you implement to drive advocacy post-purchase? 

  • Ensure that you’re incentivizing both reviews and referrals with points as part of your loyalty program structure.

  • Turn reviewers into referrers with a simple email campaign. Send all those who have left you a positive review in recent months a message, letting them know that they can also unlock additional points if they refer a friend or family member.

  • Encourage advocacy in other ways. Incentivize customers to follow and tag you on social media – for example, using your brand hashtag to show off their new jogging bottoms on Instagram next time they wear them for a Zoom yoga class. 

Your newest customers 

The story this month is not so different here, as we continue to see too big a gap between the number of guest checkouts and the number of accounts being created. 

In April, we reported that although the number of new members signing up to loyalty programs had increased by 63% compared to the last week of February, the proportion of new customers becoming members had remained 2% lower. 

In May, this remains consistent, with the number of customers creating accounts falling by around 30%, and the proportion of new customers becoming members remaining around 2% lower than it was at the end of February. While this is still an improvement on March data, it raises concerns about each store’s ability to maintain a long-term relationship with new customers. 

5
Guest orders vs guests becoming members


Many stores have seen an influx of new shoppers as the Coronavirus situation has unfolded, and those customers could be a surefire way to secure a steady stream of sales over the coming months. However, it will be a lot harder to increase the value of those customers if they do not opt into further engagement. How do we recommend kick starting these relationships? 

  • Use post-purchase emails to communicate the points that customers have missed out on by not stopping to create an account
  • Ensure instant gratification by ensuring that customers can collect enough points from creating an account that they immediately benefit and can unlock a reward

  • Show customers that by creating an account, they can contribute to causes they care about, by aligning your points and rewards structure with brand values – whether that’s offering points for recycling, or redeeming rewards in the form of charitable donations

TL:DR?

May’s data highlights some interesting trends and whilst these may be in line with the changing rules of lockdown, or simply a result of consumer behaviors adapting, the important thing is how ecommerce stores react to these trends. 

What the numbers do show us is that as customers begin to venture out and about more, you may need to continue to work a little harder to keep connecting with them, and building valuable relationships longer-term. Our key takeaways this month are: 

  1. Keep in touch with your customers, reminding them you’re there and that there are good reasons to return to you for their next purchase

  2. Don’t underestimate the power of your existing customers as an acquisition channel, and keep encouraging them to act as advocates

  3. New customers that you’ve acquired will become more valuable each time they return, but you may not see them again if you don’t secure that all important account creation. Make it impossible to refuse the offer of starting a longer-term relationship with your brand.

Stay tuned for another update at the end of June, and in the meantime if you have any questions or concerns about your retention strategy during this time, then we’re here to help!

Methodology: 

In order to provide the most useful observation of the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on customer behaviors, this dataset features the same cohort of 634 stores being tracked across a timeframe which began on February 24th (week 0). This is a trend analysis comparing each week of March with the final week of February rather than a year-on-year comparison, using means with 5% of outliers excluded for each metric. All data has been converted to USD, using the March 1st 2020 exchange rate.

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