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Sustainability and customer loyalty: how to connect with customers on a cause they care about

There’s no getting away from the fact that ecommerce has an impact on the environment. Despite more operations shifting online and more products going directly from the manufacturer to the end buyer, as ecommerce sales continue to increase so does the environmental impact of creating products, and moving them from A to B. 

You could be forgiven for thinking that consumers are comfortable with this increased impact, driven as it is by their buying behaviors. However, as environmental impact grows, so too do customer concerns alongside a strengthening link between sustainability and customer loyalty. 

A study from Nielsen shows that 73% of shoppers would change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact.  Moreover, more than half of consumers want online brands to create products with less packaging, and a third of consumers would pay a surcharge for eco-friendly delivery. Another study also shows that 72% of consumers are actively buying more environmentally friendly products

Responding to these changes in consumer behavior is neither a quick nor easy process. Younger Shopify stores that have launched in recent years may have been operating more sustainably since day dot, but for established businesses, the operational changes required could be significant. 

So how can you show your customers that you care about the impact your Shopify store is having on the environment, and ensure they choose to shop with you as a result? 

Answer: a sustainable loyalty program

Create a sustainable loyalty strategy that aligns with causes they care about 

The simplest and easiest way to prove to your customers that you’re genuine about sustainability and doing your bit for the world we live in, is to align your points and rewards strategy with the causes that they – and you – care about. 

This could be taking a leaf out of Astrid and Miyu or Lucy and Yak’s book, and enabling loyalty program members to earn points for returning and recycling old products they’ve bought in the past. 

Yak Buyback

Or, it could be in the form of sustainable loyalty rewards. For example, supplement brand, Wild Nutrition allows members to redeem their rewards in the form of charitable donations. Members can redeem rewards in the form of planted trees, or a £5 donation to an ocean charity. As a sustainable loyalty program, this demonstrates to consumers that the brand is actively doing what it can to offset its carbon footprint and that its stance on sustainability is genuine. 

Wild Nutrition loyalty program

Over time, this will encourage more customers to return and shop with Wild Nutrition more regularly, so that they can continue to purchase with a brand that is working hard to protect the environment. 

Think twice about your delivery options 

It’s tempting to try to win returning customers by offering expedited delivery options to all. However, this can quickly create conflict between sustainability and the customer loyalty you’re working hard to build. 

Instead, utilize your sustainable loyalty program to tier the delivery options you offer. For example, use tiers to ensure that your most valuable customers with the highest lifetime value can be given access to next-day delivery each time they buy, while customers in the tier below are given named-day delivery. Entirely new customers will see that these perks are available should they buy from you again, and as a result feel more patient as they wait for their first delivery.

This allows you to keep relative control of your deliveries, combining trips wherever possible and limiting your impact on the environment. Plus, you get the opportunity to make your most loyal customers feel special and rewarded. 

Bring your most loyal customers into the fold

One of the biggest concerns that today’s consumers have when it comes to sustainability, is greenwashing. They want to know that the products they’re buying are genuinely sustainable and that the brands they’re purchasing from can be trusted to be authentic about their impact on the environment. 

Get this right, and you will see sustainability and customer loyalty coming together in an emotional connection with your customers that is immediately visible within your increasing returning customer rate. 

How can a sustainable loyalty program help you achieve this? More and more, we are seeing consumers value experiential perks within loyalty program tiers, over financial ones. They want more opportunities to interact with your brand and hear your story. 

With this in mind, why not run exclusive webinars or podcasts for top-tier loyalty customers, explaining how your brand is working hard to offset its impact on the environment? You can even in-person events and invite customers to take part – we’re thinking of litter picking, beach cleans, or just in-store sessions where you hear from sustainability experts. 

Finding ways to connect with customers, tell them your brand story, and give them confidence that your approach is authentic will have a positive impact on customer loyalty, and the propensity to return and repeat purchase from you over a less sustainable brand. 

Win like-minded customers 

Our final tip for brands looking to combine sustainability and customer loyalty initiatives is to show their customers that they are sustainably minded is to focus on referrals from friends and family members. Prospective customers may well take you at your word and believe any statements about sustainability that you include within marketing ads, social posts, or on your website. However, they will take a recommendation from a friend or family member a whole lot more seriously. 

Think of your loyal customers as a tribe of people, with lots in common and a shared system of values. Your loyal customers can invite more people with those shared beliefs to your brand, and they will be more likely to convert too. You can motivate and encourage these behaviors by using loyalty points as incentives for referrals. 

For example, the vegan anti-odorant brand, Nuud used its sustainable loyalty program to introduce hundreds of new people to its products, which come in bioplastic tubes and are made without aluminum, parabens, petrochemical ingredients, propellants, or sprays. Read their referral story here

This is a more cost-effective way to acquire new customers, who immediately connect with your brand and believe you to be authentic because others who care about the same causes have given you a vote of confidence. 

Combine sustainability and customer loyalty by connecting on causes your shoppers care about

Conscious consumers are not going anywhere – in fact, as younger generations begin to wield more purchasing power, we can expect to see green credentials becoming even more important to the average shopper. 

A sustainable loyalty program can help you connect with customers on the causes you care about in a number of ways including: 

  • Enabling customers to use points earning and reward opportunities to contribute to causes that align with their beliefs
  • Revisiting your delivery strategies so that your most loyal customers continue to be rewarded with expedited shipping, but your carbon footprint doesn’t worsen
  • Helping customers to get inside your brand and your sustainability practices with exclusive content and events for your most loyal customers
  • Using referrals to generate more interest from other shoppers who care about the same causes as you and your loyalty program members. 

Ready to start thinking about sustainability and customer loyalty together? We’d love to help – you can book a time to talk to a loyalty marketing expert about your brand’s values and how to bring them to life.

You can also check out our Sustainability Series for more insights.

About the author

Fiona Stevens

Fiona Stevens is the Head of Marketing at LoyaltyLion, a data-driven loyalty and engagement platform for fast-growth ecommerce merchants. LoyaltyLion helps thousands of retailers worldwide to build fully customized loyalty programs, proven to increase customer engagement, retention and spend. Fiona has almost 15 years experience in Marketing, having worked in-house and agency side across functions including PR, SEO and content. She has specialized in loyalty for retail and ecommerce brands for the past eight years.

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