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Express loyalty program rewards customers for mobile, social activities

April 5, 2012

The specialty retailer's new loyalty program is called Express NEXT

Specialty retail chain Express is giving customers a chance to earn points that can be redeemed for rewards when they take certain mobile and social actions.

Customers earn 100 points for opting in to receive SMS text alerts from the retailer and 5 points for retweeting an Express tweet. However, social appears to play a bigger role than mobile in the Express loyalty program, pointing to the challenges some retailers face linking in-store behavior with loyalty.

“It is much easier to link loyalty to social activity than it is to link it to any behavioral activity in the store – outside of purchase,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner, RSR Research, Miami.

“So we are more likely to see retailers making that social link first – learning what they can – before bringing those kind of activity-based loyalty programs to mobile, which will theoretically unlock visibility into activity in the store, beyond the two simple ones that we’ve achieved today  – check–in, and purchase,” she said.

Ms. Baird is not affiliated with Express. She commented based on her experience in mobile.

Express did not respond to a request for comment by the press deadline.

Mobile loyalty challenges
Retailers want to be able to integrate mobile with their loyalty efforts so they can deliver personalized offers to a customer’s phone. However, many retailers do not have the targeting capabilities in place to do so in a personalized way, per Ms. Baird.

Another challenge facing retailers is that many have not consolidated their view of the customer so that they can connect things like online or in-store behavior with mobile activities.

The new Express loyalty program points to how retailers are trying to reward customers for shopping habits they are already engaged in while also trying to take advantage of the growing convergence of mobile and social media.

The new loyalty program, Express NEXT, is designed to expand loyalty rewards to all Express customers. It replaces the retailer’s existing loyalty program that was only available to Express card holders.

Shoppers can earn points by checking in with a store associate at a register. However, there is no mobile check-in option.

Customers can earn 10 points each time they check-in up to two times per week.

Retailers are interested in offering points for check-ins because they want to be able to identify customers as they walk into the store.

The challenge is getting consumers to remember and to care enough to remember to check-in.

By not offering customers a way to check in via mobile, Express may have missed an opportunity to bring added convenience – for both store associates and customers – and thereby increase the likelihood that customers will check in. Requiring customers to check-in with a store associate could increase lines at the register.

Express could have offered a mobile check-in option via third-party services such as foursquare and shopkick. There are also other ways that it might have made check-ins easier by using mobile technology.

“You have to balance creating an opportunity to get someone in the store against the hassle factor that it might cause – for both the associate and the customer,” Ms. Baird said. “I would have maybe looked at a check-in station that had a QR code or something like that, if they didn’t want to go with something like Shopkick.

“If the store isn’t busy, then a store associate could stand near the check-in station and greet people and help them check in if they need it,” she said. “If the store is busy, the check-in station could be self service.

Driving engagements
Customers can also earn 10 points for reviewing an item online and 50 points for following Express on Twitter.

The program was tested in eight markets in the fall before being rolled out to all stores.

Express offers specialty women’s and men’s apparel and accessories in over 600 retail locations as well as via its e-commerce Web site,

“Retailers are still trying to figure out what social media can do for them and whether engagement can translate into sales,” Ms. Baird said. “Two parts of the equation are still unknowns: if customers are incented to become more engaged, will that translate to sales, and if customers spread the word, does that bring in others that the retailer might not have reached otherwise?

“I don’t see a lot of retailers doing this yet, though,” she said. “But certainly more will – the capabilities are out there, to create and track loyalty campaigns based on actions in the social sphere.”

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