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Experiential Rewards: How Kohl’s, Neiman Marcus And Marriott Set A New Bar

Bryan Pearson | May 6, 2017 79 views No Comments

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Kohl's photoshoot

Kohl’s photoshoot

The best retail customer experiences are designed to fulfill consumer expectations. For the shopper who got to participate in a fashion photo shoot for Kohl’s, it meant filling a celebrity’s shoes.

That’s basically what a member of Kohl’s Yes2You Rewards got when the retailer invited her to participate in a photo shoot of the LC Lauren Conrad line, designed by The Hills TV star and fashion designer Lauren Conrad. As Conrad described it, the member (Kayla Watters) got to ”fill my shoes.”

Kohl's photoshoot

Kohl’s photoshoot

“Kayla never expected she would get this sort of experience from joining a loyalty program,” Conrad said in an email. “She got to model the line at a photo shoot and get a firsthand look at how the LC Lauren Conrad brand comes to life.”

It may seem like an elaborate reward for a loyalty member, but less so than a few years ago. If anything, the fashion photo shoot exemplifies how competition to stand apart in retail, through one-of-a-kind reward-program experiences, is ascending to a new level.

Millions of experiences

For Kohl’s, the Yes2You Rewards program also provides its own set of merchant benefits. These include having “an authentic, two-way dialogue” to learn what its shoppers want, how they interact with the retailer and what matters most in their brand experiences, said Michelle Gass, Kohl’s chief merchandising and customer officer.

“As we learn more about our customers through Yes2You Rewards, we develop deeper relationships and provide promotions, experiences and surprises that are meaningful to them,” she said.

Since the program launched in 2014, Kohl’s has made millions of customer surprises, she said, ranging from a VIP trip to the American Music Awards to an early screening of a blockbuster film to the opportunity to star in a Kohl’s photo shoot. “The positive sentiment we’ve seen from these customers is incredible and absolutely deepens customer affinity with our brand.”

The photo shoot, which took place in March, features the new LC Lauren Conrad Festival collection, which will be available in May. The photos will be used across Kohl’s marketing channels.

As far as experiences go, the photo shoot sets a high bar. Here are a few examples of other standout experiential rewards that retailers can learn from.

Marveling and Magic Tricks

Theory11 — sleight of hand-tailored rewards: The online seller of cards for magic tricks and other magic accessories offers members of its points-based Elite Program a range of exclusive experiences, including a private “cardistry” training session with expert Andrei Jikh. (Cardistry is defined as “the non-magical manipulation of playing cards with intent to display creativity, performance art and skill.”) Past limited-edition rewards included a one-time meeting with renowned magician David Blaine.

My Coke Rewards — recognizing a common factor of members: Coca-Cola is an online retailer these days as well as a major brand (with a World of Coca-Cola store in its home city of Atlanta). It even sells customized bottles for bride and groom, which gets to its status as a family brand. Among the beverage maker’s experience-based rewards is a chance to engage in altruism. My Coke Rewards gives members the opportunity to donate points to their local schools. It also offers a variety of sweepstakes, including a chance to win $24,000 for a home makeover and a family vacation to Orlando.

Neiman Marcus — fitting rewards for the upscale: The luxury retailer’s eight-tiered InCircle program offers those who reach Circle Four access to its InCircle Concierge, who can secure in-demand concert tickets, arrange reservations at select restaurants and personalize travel itineraries with partner hotels from around the world. Achieve the seventh level — President’s Circle — and Neiman’s will throw in a “Fitting Room Experience” with light bites and “unparalleled personal attention in an accommodating setting.” Neiman’s recognizes that for the customer who can buy most of what she wants, preferential treatment is priceless.

Marriott International — shooting beyond Point B: When your members are regular travelers, you’ve got to wow them with experiences that one-up destinations alone. As I’ve detailed in an earlier story, the Marriott Rewards Experiences Marketplace offers for auction a meet-and-greet with Tony Bennett, VIP access to the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and tickets to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Recently, it auctioned off a chance to stay in one of eight tricked-out tents at the Coachella music festival, each of which duplicated a room in one of its eight boutique hotel brands.

Important to these experiential reward strategies is that each is sized up to its audience. From Kohl’s branded photo shoots to Marriott’s customized tents, each brand uses its program data to develop reward options that hit the relevant sweet spots of its core members.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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