Coffee shop customers often stop in to buy their favorite brew several times a week—if not daily. But shoe shoppers? Not so much. And Schuh, a United Kingdom-based footwear chain, is acutely aware that it’s not in a high-volume business.

Beyond niche sneakerheads and shoe devotees, the average consumer’s repeat purchase cycle for footwear is different: They buy when their shoes need replacing, for key occasions and ahead of season changes, hence the summer sandal rush, says Phil Hearn, the chain’s customer relationship management analytics manager.

To add to this challenge, Schuh is in a crowded market. Lots of retailers sell fashion footwear and trainers, he says. So, in an effort to maintain a connection to the customer until she’s ready for a new pair, which is critical to the chain’s success, Schuh recently began developing a customer loyalty program.

“That’s one of the key things—to really understand, ‘How are we going to get customers coming back to us specifically?’” Hearn says.

Loyalty programs can help retailers better the odds of earning repeat shoppers and increase spending from those who are already returning to an ecommerce site, according to industry experts. In fact, 27% of consumers said their rewards program membership prompted them to shop with a particular retailer during the holidays, according to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of more than 1,130 online shoppers in January 2021.

But during the pandemic, 76% of consumers changed their shopping behavior in some way, including 37% who experimented with new brands, according to a survey conducted by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. That shift in customer loyalty made it all the more important for retailers to deepen relationships with their customer base to both siphon off up-for-grabs shoppers from competitors and retain existing ones. The effort often is aided by data analytics, which can identify and help customize marketing opportunities. Many retailers are aiming to do this by putting new spins on traditional loyalty programs, adding personalized offers, early access to sales, charitable giving elements or exclusive experiences.

A growing number of merchants are investing in memberships that incentivize shopping with rewards and other perks. And these programs work: 35.9% of retailers ranked in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 500 offered a free loyalty program in 2020, up from 26.0% the year before. That’s a 37.8% year-over-year increase. And Top 500 retailers with loyalty programs grew online sales by a median…


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