Do Affluent Customers Value Rewards?


Guy Dilger | January 07, 2011

Guy Dilger, marketing, retail loyalty and CRM consultant at LoyaltyOne, discusses the challenges of providing affluent consumers meaningful rewards

Guy Dilger, marketing, retail loyalty and CRM consultant at LoyaltyOne, discusses the challenges of providing affluent consumers meaningful rewardss.

The question posted on a marketing forum I participate in immediately caught my eye. “Do affluent customers value rewards?” The rest of the question was implied: Or are affluent customers inured to the extras, expecting them but not necessarily appreciating them? After all, as the classic question asks, “What do you give someone who has everything?”

Well, even the affluent don’t have everything, and they know it. Based on our recent research and experience, I can say that the short answer to “Do affluent customers value rewards?” is yes—if (and prepare to not be shocked) those rewards are meaningful. The challenge lies in quantifying how this audience defines “meaningful.”

My colleagues and I have recently spent some time making that very determination. Over recent months, we’ve been working in the field with affluent customers, trying to understand their wants and needs, and how to design loyalty programs for them. We looked at both existing members and non-members of various luxury retail programs. Members were screened on a variety of criteria, including household income ($175,000+) and annual spend on clothing, accessories, and personal items ($5,000+). Here are some highlights of our findings:

The affluent want flexibility in terms of payment method. While luxury shoppers may see themselves as loyal to a particular brand, their behaviors demonstrate that they shop at many stores that may be direct competitors. We found that they belong to many reward programs and don’t always want to join other programs, especially those that impose payment-method restrictions. The opportunity to earn points—even a reduced number of points—regardless of payment type was attractive to her. For example: Her household may favor one credit card, and they pay with that particular card whenever possible to maximize point earnings. She is willing to shop more and receive a lesser number of reward points when you allow her to put purchases on the preferred card in your store.

The affluent simply enjoy shopping. Luxury customers may be accustomed to being pampered, but they draw additional value from the experience when it feels like they are treating themselves. Given that fact, it wasn’t all that surprising that they rated gift card rewards and high-end merchandise at the top of their preferences for rewards. They view shopping, particularly for luxury goods, as a privilege and look to be rewarded with similar such items. These rewards were seen as “indulgences” and “special.”

The affluent understand the importance of image. Some are fashionistas. Some need to portray a certain image at their workplace. Some shop only when they have an event or a special occasion. But enhancing image is seen not as a chore, but as an enjoyable activity. Rewards that gave their image some sparkle or a greater sense of authority also ranked high.

The affluent value the intangibles. We received feedback that luxury shoppers wanted more soft benefits and more experiential components. They are accustomed to special treatment. Such intangibles could be as simple as free bottled water for your best customers as they shop.

The affluent value time. A life of leisure? To the contrary, many of these shoppers viewed themselves as “rushed” or “hurried,” and often mentioned that they had a lot to do in a day. Some suggestions for making their shopping experience easier and more efficient:

• Many valued the opinions of others and relied on assistants or relationships with experienced salespeople to help them move quickly and efficiently throughout the store given their hectic lifestyle. “Provide a shopping consultant—when I need one,” we were told on several occasions. The luxury shopper values the attention of a personal shopper not only for convenience but also for the value of simple good advice. She wants to know that she’s looking her absolute best when purchasing any given item. She wants to hear “That looks great on you” when it does, or an honest “Let’s look at something else” when the item doesn’t flatter her.
• Provide such conveniences as baggage and coat check to free her hands and to allow her to shop easier.
• Offer free local delivery of purchases—a request that was particularly frequent in large metropolitan markets in our field visits.

The affluent want to be recognized as individuals. When frequently shopping at a retailer or brand, luxury shoppers want to feel that you know them and that you value their business. When we asked them what would demonstrate such recognition, we got some interesting answers—interesting, because they pointed out practices that should be commonplace:

• Acknowledge her with a simple greeting
• Call her by name
• Remember her preferences and previous purchases
• Send items to her home (on approval) that she might like
• Follow up with additional communication—email, phone calls, even old-fashioned thank-you notes were mentioned in our research

The affluent perception of value, then, goes beyond expectation into the areas of appreciation and fulfillment of need. Ask yourself how you can provide rewards in those areas—to acknowledge the special contribution she brings to your business, to enhance her choices, to deliver precious benefits like added convenience and, especially, time? Deliver program benefits that are meaningful within those particular needs and interests, and, yes, your affluent customers will indeed value your loyalty program rewards—and reward you in return.