Thorntons Seeks Customer Behavioral Insights from New Loyalty Program

Thorntons Refreshing Rewards loyalty program launched in March 2014 in Lexington and Nashville, and is now available in all markets the company serves. The Refreshing Rewards program is based on visits, not on points or purchases. Customers can look forward to personalized rewards based on their favorite items. 

There is no cost to join the Refreshing Rewards program, which already has more than 500,000 registered guests. Customers can pick up a card at their local Thorntons and register their card online at or through a brand new “Thorntons Refreshing Rewards” mobile application. Thorntons built Refreshing Rewards as a three-tiered loyalty program that leverages Paytronix to provide greater vision into its customers’ behavior and buying habits.

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Thorntons operates 178 gasoline and convenience stores, car washes, and travel plazas in six states: Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Florida.

Jeff Keune, Chief Marketing Officer, Thorntons participated in an engaging interview with Loyalty360 to discuss the company’s new program.

Simple Frequency Program in Past

Keune: We had a frequency card program in the past based on expense. A very, very simple program. Not a lot of customer insight. The old program was integrated with POS and was barcode-based. I wouldn’t call what we had before a loyalty program. It was a frequency program: Buy six and get the seventh free. This new loyalty program is completely separate.

We launched this new program as a clean slate. Refreshing Rewards really is built around the foundation of driving a better relationship with our guests being more competitive in the marketplace, and rewarding them for visiting our brand.

Understanding Customer Behavior

Keune: We have a Guest Services department where customers can reach out to and provide feedback. We want to understand customer behavior from what we learn at the store level. We want to enable our register associates to know who the guest is to have a better interaction. We built the program with Paytronix and they were interested in building something that would be very special to Thorntons.

Defining Loyalty

Keune: We’ve got a pretty broad definition of loyalty, ensuring you’re getting guests to come more often. It is not defined by any specific number of visits. It’s how we’re building a relationship with the brand and we use that as a point of difference, either at the fuel pump or inside the store.

There are consumers who will shop by convenience and shoppers who will shop by price. We want to make them feel appreciated and have a quality perception of our brand and use that to drive their purchases.


Keune: One of our insights as we built this program was the convergence of different industries looking to meet the needs of our guests. We certainly looked at the QSR category and people like Panera, grocery people like Kroger, and pharmacies like Walgreens.

CMO Challenge

Keune: When we look at biggest challenges, it’s that the category and industry is converging. We want to ensure we’re ready for that convergence and make sure our brand is relevant and competitive and deliver in a way that will make us a preference.

We’ve always been a high traffic brand and we want to be able to serve as many guests as possible.

Customer Experience Trumps Acquisition

Keune: In the fuel arena, we want to create an experience for our guest. We don’t see that in acquisitions. We’ve built a number of stores in the past few years and are building more next year. We want to gain behavioral insights and create reciprocal relationships.


Keune: Paytronix certainly helps with that and gives us perspective. Right now we’re as much as anything else looking at the data around how many people are engaged in the program, and how many are registered for the program.

It’s really about engagement post-registration. Are we building loyalty and are we able to engage them? Can we influence how often they experience the brand? Paytronix has been a great partner through this.

This is a long-term initiative for us. We see it as a platform for growth across-the-board.

Customer Insights

Keune: There is a lot we’ll be able to glean, whether it’s from a behavioral standpoint or demographic standpoint. We saw the challenge in front of us and worked to drive that as much as possible.

About the Author: Mark Johnson

Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.





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