How Ugg, Lowe’s, Publix and Others Reward Customers With Freebies


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At a time when consumers appear to be nickeled and dimed at every turn, one shiny apple can be a pretty persuasive freebie.

Just ask the parents who eat at the Rib & Chop House, a chain of restaurants that operate throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Whenever a family with a child is seated at the restaurant, a server quickly dispatches to the kitchen for an apple with yogurt for dipping and presents it to the tot.

This free service wins the gratitude of parents and kids. But it’s also an example of the healthy, wise perks retailers should now consider offering if they want to improve their long-term wealth through loyalty.

Will Customers Next Be Charged For Showing Up?

Being a customer today is taking more and more work. Some supermarkets no longer have cashiers, requiring shoppers to ring up and bag their own purchases. Product packaging continues to shrink while prices bloat. A number of loyalty programs, including those by Starbucks, Dunkin’ and Chipotle, have raised the point thresholds members must reach to redeem rewards.

And Amazon Fresh has hiked the minimum purchase requirements for free delivery of groceries, to $150 from $35.

All of which make the practice of delivering out-of-the-ordinary lagniappes, or bonus gifts, significantly more relevant in these out-of-ordinary times. These efforts, like the Rib & Chop House apple snack, are practical and reflective. They prove the merchant understands what matters to its customers and what will keep them engaged.

Because if the customers are engaged (read: digging the experience), they’ll probably stay longer and spend more money.

Retailers, Unexpected Bonuses Can Abound

Not many consumers dig the experience of surprise fees or eliminated services, although many put up with it as a consequence of economic shifts. Still, while inflation has helped condition consumers to “pay more,” unexpected upcharges – like the technology, marketing and administrative “convenience” fees Panera adds to its app orders – feel icky, and short-sighted.

Short-sighted because retailers and brands that cut their value equations a little at a time probably won’t make it to the thousandth cut before hordes of shoppers leave them. And short-sighted because the free perks that win customer loyalty don’t have to be costly.

Here’s where a number of innovative retailers provide inspiration.

Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s see beauty in face time. Some specialty beauty chains (including Sephora) have eliminated free makeover consultations, even for reward members. But at Nordstrom, guests can book free 90-minute bridal consultations with the experts at Charlotte Tilbury, gratis, a 15-minute “Mini Escape” at the La Mer counter and a professional false lash application at M.A.C. Bloomingdale’s, meanwhile, offers 30-minute makeup and skincare consultations, on the house. If the guest isn’t comfortable trying out products in the store, Bloomingdale’s makes take-home samples available.

Publix – nothing fishy here. Supermarket chain Publix is based in Florida, so it apparently understands the value of fresh fish to its shoppers. To this end, the family-owned retailer offers a seafood program, called “Reel Variety.” Through Reel Variety, customers who want fresh seafood can choose from as many as 80 fresh fish varieties and receive their orders in as little as two days. A handy chart on the “Reel” web page categorizes the fish (farm-raised or wild; fillet, steak or custom cut). And if the customer would like it, the Publix fish team will steam the catch.

Ugg pop-up is an open house of feeling. Fashion brand Ugg’s pop-up shop in Brooklyn, called Feel House, was designed as a free sanctuary as much as a fashion venue. The pop-up supports mindfulness and meditation through calming audio and lighting installations, delivering on the “necessity of refuge, by giving consumers a cozy and calming space to reset and recharge,” Ugg stated in a press release. Also free: self-expression, through art gallery installations by local artists and an interactive wall upon which customers can share their own art and words.

Lowe’s, by design, gets the cut. Lots of retailers offer highly valued, yet unknown, services and perks all the time. At Lowe’s, DIY technicians will develop free computer-generated designs for a customer’s kitchen or deck. And at some higher-volume locations, its team members also will cut lumber, mini blinds and pipes, as well as provide free pipe-threading and cutting. These free services enable Lowe’s to thread a cost-benefit needle, because they deliver value to the customer that can be worth much more than their cost to Lowe’s.

Ikea will take apart your furniture, for free. Order a couch or mattress from Ikea, and it will haul off your old ones for free through its removal and recycle service. This is real money to shoppers who otherwise would have to wrap their couches and mattresses in environmentally unfriendly plastic and drag them to the curb (for the landfill). Several retailers, including Sears Hometown Stores and the Mattress Company, offer similar take-away options, but fees may apply. Ikea pledges to dispose of the soft furnishings in sustainable and environmentally friendly ways, through an approved partner.

Nothing “poultry” about Chick-fil-A breakroom. Sometimes, customers benefit when the workers they rely on get special recognition. And companies can, too, which may be why in New York, Chick-fil-A has opened a storefront “rest station” where delivery workers for DoorDash, Uber Eats and others can kick back between runs. The space, called The Brake Room, provides access to beverages, bathrooms, bike storage, phone charger outlets and Wi-Fi. When these delivery riders take wing, chances are many will have their own orders of Chick-fil-A.

When Companies Cut Back, That’s All Their Customers See

Consumers tend to think that companies are reneging on brand promises when they cut services, add fees or make it harder to earn rewards. Flexible retailers can cherry pick these frustrated customers by promoting the free benefits and services they have come to expect over the years.

Retailers also can simply surprise consumers in small yet relevant ways, such as by presenting a free apple to a child. These efforts matter because they say, “We recognize and appreciate you.” This isn’t much to ask for when the customer has so many physical and digital options.

It costs a lot of money to win back a lost customer. Nickle-and-diming them with cutbacks is not financially logical. 


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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