To answer that provocative question, Loyalty360 reached out to DataCandy president and CEO Lorne Schwartz.

For years, it seemed, mobile was a burgeoning topic among loyalty marketers, but few wanted to dive in head first. Now, within the past year or two, it seemingly has exploded. What do you think triggered this explosion in mobile customer engagement?

Schwartz: Consumers demanded it. Consumers are becoming bored and disengaged with run-of-the-mill loyalty programs that ignore obvious technology advancements such as mobile. Retailers have realized they must take advantage of opportunities that will please their best customers – and consumers want to buy, browse, and earn rewards on their smartphone. It’s somewhat common for mid-sized brands to be slow to adopt new technology. Technology changes so quickly, and many retailers are leery of making a knee-jerk investment, while others too quickly convince themselves to embrace what's trending for fear of being left behind.  Mobile is not a trend or a fad or a cool differentiator – it is now essential to simply remain relevant. 

How can loyalty marketers best leverage mobile?

Schwartz: Consumers want the ability to earn and redeem loyalty perks where they shop and that includes mobile. Introducing cross-channel redemption via mobile websites and apps should be fast, simple, and seamless. There are actually some retailer websites encouraging customers to make a purchase on their smartphone as a way to earn extra points or a discount at check out, which is really interesting. Marketers who can create a well-rounded mobile experience will have the ability to stay connected to loyalty members throughout the entire customer journey and promote higher engagement during pre-store, in-store, and post-store activities.

What is being done well in the space and where do the challenges lie?

Schwartz: Mobile apps that reward consumers for non-transactional behaviors have been big winners. For example, rewarding loyalty members for participating in a healthy activity is a strong engagement strategy that has had a lot of success in related restaurants or retailers. It’s a non-intrusive way to weave a brand into the consumer’s daily routine plus the brand comes off as a hero. 

One other example is DataCandy’s customer, Familiprix. It allows members to donate earned points to a local charity via its mobile app. I love this because it not only empowers loyalty members to give back to their community, but the retailer is successfully creating a deeper, emotional connection with its highly valuable customers. The door is wide open for additional innovation in mobile, but there are challenges surrounding program measurement and data analysis.

Staying on top of rapidly changing technologies, and finding which ones work best, can be a challenge for brands. What advice would you give these marketers?

Schwartz: Mastering the basic building blocks of a loyalty program: analyze, communicate, personalize, and reward should be a prerequisite to adopting emerging shopper engagement technology. Loyalty program innovations should only be embraced for maintaining a meaningful and profitable relationship with valuable consumers. The loyalty evolution will continue and move even faster as more technology emerges so it’s vital to master the basics first and have the data to understand your customers and their needs and expectations.

How has mobile changed customer loyalty and what do you foresee for 2017 and beyond?

Schwartz: Consumers are pushing brands to exceed the traditional loyalty program structure, and mobile engagement is at the center of everything. Mobile is going to become more prevalent in 2017, so it’s really important for brands to listen to consumer demands and pay attention to purchasing habits.  Loyalty members want to be able to accrue points online, in-store, via social media outlets, through SMS, and on mobile applications, so that’s a good place to start.

Looking ahead, I’m excited to see how the Internet of Things moves into major retail chains in the form of beacons, smart shelves, and more sophisticated gamification. It will also be interesting to see how technology is further developed to interact with a customer’s smartphone or wearable devices as they make purchase decisions. Using technology to sharpen communications with loyalty program members as they shop will be a catalyst in shopper engagement strategies. 

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