Bill Termini, vice president of sales, Harco Incentives, believes that customer loyalty is driven by three primary merchandising trends.

Loyalty360 caught up with Termini to find out more about these trends, among others.

Can you talk about the current state of merchandising and is impact on customer loyalty?
Termini: Customer loyalty is driven by three primary merchandising trends. First, customers are looking for new and unique. Awards need to reflect the same new, emerging products that customers see in the retail marketplace that are creating a consumer “buzz”.  Second, customers are looking for products with high perceived value combined with an economical price point–a high value proposition. Finally, customers want personalization and customization.

Every award–from the item itself through the packaging needs to demonstrate that each customer is unique and valued. Custom shipping packages with personalized name/address, logos, colored boxes, corporate colors, personal messaging and more reinforce a customer’s uniqueness. A plain brown box no longer works.

Can you talk about the current state of fulfillment and its impact on customer loyalty?
Termini: The common perception of fulfillment is that there are several models for award fulfillment.  But the reality is that there is always a warehouse somewhere. It may be the manufacturer’s, the distributor’s, or Amazon’s, but it is the beginning of the fulfillment process. These warehouses are the source of critical information and services that are important to customer loyalty.

One is their ability to personalize the packaging. The packaging forms the initial impression for the customer on how important they are to the sponsor. Another is their ability to provide customer service.  Customers are looking for real-time information on tracking, shipment, delivery, returns, exchanges, and basic customer assistance. If a warehouse cannot provide direct customer service, it needs to be able to provide instant information to a secondary customer service provider to keep customer aware of shipment progress.

How has merchandising evolved in recent years?
Termini: Merchandising has had to work harder to identify and capitalize on new products and consumer trends more quickly. The old standards will always be popular, but customers are intrigued when they can also choose those same products they see advertised. This constant search for the unique means that merchandising needs more and deeper relationships with manufacturers so that they are among the first to hear about new products, how they are being accepted and what manufacturers are doing to promote them. This information drives which products they recommend to loyalty program sponsors and how they price them.  

How has fulfillment evolved in recent years?
Termini: Award fulfillment has had to respond to the continually evolving need for immediate reinforcement. A week to deliver a package is no longer an option. Customers expect 24-hour turn-around. In addition, customers have become used to observing the entire warehouse to house journey.  Fulfillment has needed to provide on-demand tracking and delivery information for customers. Finally, shipping costs continue to be important. Shipping has come full circle, from moving away from the U.S. Postal Service to private ground and air services to returning to the postal service for economical, efficient delivery.  

What are brands doing well in these areas and where do challenges lie?
Termini: Brand name products are packaging better. They are providing more features and benefits information on their packaging to help differentiate their products–essentially advertising on their packaging. They are also making their packaging stronger to help reduce over-packaging, which saves time and handling costs. A tip to customers: Save your shipment packaging until you know you are happy with the item. It will save hassle if you need to return. 

A primary challenge brand products face is the proliferation of products. They need to continue to find ways to differentiate their products so that they stand out from the pack. Consumers, because they want unique products, are always on the lookout for new and different. But they also want to trust the brands that deliver. Brands need to find new and interesting ways to build their brand and describe their products to make people want them.

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