10 CX Lessons From Newsweek’s Best Retail Loyalty Programs


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Despite the technology and complexities required to run loyalty programs today, the premise behind them remains fairly simple: keep doing business with us, and we’ll recognize you with rewards, perks or status.

This simplicity has spawned millions of programs in retail alone. So how do shoppers choose? If only we had a “People’s Choice Awards” for loyalty.

We do. For its fourth annual ranking of America’s Best Loyalty Programs, Newsweek partnered with Statista to rate more than 300 rewards programs across 40 categories, based on surveys of more than 4,000 loyalty program members.

In the retail category, the top 10 programs earned a score of 9.04 or higher (eight retailers ranked among the top-10 programs across all categories).

Following are those retail programs, with a single best practice from each. Retailers planning to revamp an existing program, or launch a new one, might consider each practice an essential tool.

The People’s Choices, And The Strategies That Earned Them

Newsweek and Statista collected nearly 17,900 evaluations for this list in October and November 2023 (surveyed customers rated several programs each). Six criteria were rated: recommendations (30%), satisfaction (25%), benefits (20%), trust (10%), customer support (10%) and easy/enjoyment (5%).

Some of the programs are credit card-based, and therefore only open to consumers who are credit worthy (credit cards are considered loyalty programs by many). Also, some programs are multi-tender and/or reward for behaviors that go beyond purchasing.

A few of these top-raters might strike you as random, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something to offer (and remember, this is the people’s choice).

  1. Victoria’s Secret (Score: 9.8) – The basics: Those who are approved for the Victoria Secret (VS) credit card are automatically enrolled in the silver (second) tier. This earns them twice as many points per dollar spent at Victoria Secret or Pink stores (10 from five at the entry tier). Ranking strategy: Category-building. Cardmembers earn 30 points for every $1 spent on bras (Gold members earn 45).
  2. Amazon Rewards credit card (Score: 9.76) – The basics: Users of this card earn 1% to 5% back on purchases and get one point for every penny earned in those percentages. So, 1,000 points (potentially $200 in purchases) can be redeemed for $10. Ranking strategy: According to WalletHub, Amazon points are worth more than the average superstore’s rewards points of 89 cents each. Undercutting has its privileges.
  3. Capital One Walmart Rewards (Score: 9.69) – The basics: Members earn 5% back for purchases made at Walmart.com, 2% back for in-store purchases and 1% everywhere else. Ranking strategy: Habit building. New enrollees of Capital One Walmart Rewards earn 5% cash back in stores for the first 12 months (an upgrade from 2%), if they use the Walmart Pay app. One year can be enough time to make Walmart runs and app use a routine.
  4. Dillard’s Rewards (Score: 9.51) – The basics: The department store’s credit card program issues two points for every $1 spent at Dillard’s stores, website and catalog, and offers special financing on qualified purchases such as furniture. Ranking strategy: Dillard’s also partners with American Express in a program that offers pre-sale ticket access to events and cell phone protection from theft and damage (if the phone bill is paid on Amex).
  5. True Value Rewards (Score: 9.22) – The basics: Members of this program earn 10 points for every dollar spent in the store and are rewarded $5 certificate for every 2,500 points (or $250 spent). Ranking strategy: Accumulation effect. True Value gives back 2% in rewards, which is modest. However, by issuing such a high number of points, 10 per dollar, True Value members feel they are earning faster. Bonus: True Value stores are independently owned and operated. 
  6. Hot Topic Rewards (Score: 9.19) – The basics: The pop-culture chain’s three-tier program releases $5 in rewards for every 100 points earned – an impressive 5%. Entry-level members earn one point per $1. Those who spend $100 or more a year earn 1.2 to 1.5 points per dollar. Ranking strategy: Celebration dates. In addition to issuing $5 birthday gifts to members, Hot Topic gives $5 rewards on program anniversaries, reminding members of their lengthening ties with the brand.
  7. Pampers Club (Score: 9.16) – The basics: With this app-based program, members earn points by scanning package codes on the diapers and baby wipes they buy. Instant “Pampers Cash” is sent to their in-app balance. Ranking strategy: Spoon-fed education. The Pampers Club app smartly invests in relevant parenting tools, including online birthing classes, potty-training tips and a “smart sleep coach” for a better baby sleep routine.
  8. Torrid Rewards (Score: 9.16) – The basics: Members of this plus-size fashion retail program earn one point per $1 spent and a reward for every 250 points. The higher the tier, the more perks. Ranking strategy: Photo opportunity. Torrid issues points for activities such as opening emails (one point) and posting reviews on Facebook (10 points). Not uncommon, but Torrid entices members with an additional 15 points (25 total) for sharing pictures with their product reviews.
  9. Harmons Foodie Club (Score: 9.07) – The basics: For every dollar spent at the “neighborhood grocer,” members earn one point toward fuel discounts and “Foodie Freebies” (from cookies to artisan bread). Manufacturer coupons automatically load to member cards. Ranking strategy: Loyalty in doses. Members can earn 100 points per prescription filled at a store pharmacy (20 points if the prescription is government subsidized, and they can’t be used for fuel).
  10. Banana Republic Rewards (Score: 9.04) – The basics: At its non-credit card “core” level, this program issues one point per $1 spent, and $1 for every 100 points earned. Members who have the credit card earn five points per dollar. Ranking strategy: One Banana Republic membership applies to Banana Republic’s four brands, so members can earn and redeem at Banana Republic, Gap, Athleta and Old Navy.

Awards For Rewards Can Change: 4 Takeaways

A lot of these programs rank higher this year than they did last year; a very encouraging sign for consumers and retailers. These takeaways encapsulate their best practices:

  • They use their programs as goal-achieving tools. In addition to encouraging customer engagement, rewards programs should achieve specific goals. Victoria’s Secret’s program encourages bra sales by issuing a generous number of points for their purchase (bras can be expensive). Harmons aims for pharmacy business by issuing a high number of points on prescriptions.
  • They prove their worth. Shoppers want discounts and freebies, but to achieve engagement today, value needs to shout a little. True Value’s 10-points-per-$1 results in fast accumulation, which can be exciting for point-counters. Members of Banana Republic’s program only have to track one program, yet they can use it to earn and redeem at four brands. Dillard’s and Amex’s smartphone protection covers value through peace of mind. And Amazon’s points are simply worth more than the average superstore.
  • They speak their customers’ language. Personalization make shoppers feel special, and this goes double if program personalization solves immediate customer needs. The tools offered on the Pampers Rewards app are expressly designed for expecting and new mothers. Torrid knows its customers want to feel confident and beautiful in their clothes, so it lavishes them with extra points to post their images with their Facebook reviews.
  • They don’t require new math. Look, consumers don’t like friction, and loyalty programs with complex rules cause it. Most of these programs are straightforward, but a few stand out for their efforts to retain members. Hot Topic’s anniversary reward is simple to understand, and to remember. The one-year, 5% back that Walmart gives new cardmembers who use its app requires no further explanation, and the app itself adds ease.

Learning from others is good practice. Newsweek’s list reflects the people’s choice, but it’s up to retailers to choose just how they will hold on to their best customers.  

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This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Jenn McMillen
Incendio Founder Jenn McMillen has been building and sharing expertise in the retail industry for 20+ years. Her expertise includes customer relationship management, shopper experience, retail marketing, loyalty programs and data analytics. She's a retail contributor for Forbes.


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