Best practices for attracting loyalty club members

With large portions of the marketing budget dedicated to acquisition tactics such as search marketing and social media, customer retention often takes a back seat.

But one strategy has bucked the trend and caught on: loyalty or free shipping clubs — paid membership programs that offer participants exclusive benefits, starting with discounted or free shipping. There’s a reason these programs are increasingly commonplace: they’re proven to drive repeat business.

According to industry researcher Forrester, participation in free shipping clubs grew by a third from 2010 to 2011 – from 9% to 12% of U.S. online consumers. And of those participants, 66% say they plan to shop more with the brand whose club they’ve joined.

Research  /></a></p><p>If your brand doesn’t yet offer an online loyalty club, now is the time to consider adding one — it’s a big investment, but one with the potential to pay off handsomely.  If you already have a program in place, maximize its effectiveness and profitability with these best practices:</p><p><strong>Put shipping front and center — but play it smart.</strong> Shipping costs remain the top reason consumers abandon online shopping carts, so giving loyalty club members a shipping price break makes sense. To offer value while maintaining margins, consider these tactics:</p><p><ul> <li>Make it a flat rate. Taking the variability out of shipping costs may be enough of an incentive for your customers to join the club. Assigning a flat, low rate for ground delivery eases the purchase process for them by making total order costs easy to calculate.</li> <li>Offer “free” strategically. Rather than defaulting to free shipping all the time, consider offering club members generous, but periodic, free shipping windows — for the month of their birthdays, for example, or for the last two months of the year for holiday gift purchases.</li> <li>Sweeten the deal for the holidays. Whatever your default offer, give loyalty program members an even better discount during the peak holiday season — free expedited shipping once the ground shipping threshold has passed, for example.</li> </ul></p><p><strong>Round out the package with other benefits.</strong> While shipping discounts may be a primary driver of loyalty club membership, you can increase participation — and compensate for not offering free shipping by default — with a bevy of other enticing benefits. Consider offering members:</p><p><ul> <li>Advance notice of sales, particularly when stock is limited.</li> <li>Advance notice of sought-after new products.</li> <li>A discount on every order, exclusive discounts throughout the year, or additional discounts during major sales.</li> <li>Access to members-only events in stores.</li> <li>Exclusive opportunities to give feedback, such as customer advisory panels.</li> </ul></p><p>MarketLive merchant Title Nine puts it all together to offer new members free shipping on their first order, combined with flat-rate shipping for the rest of the year, along with a 5% discount on orders and other benefits. Club T9 is given prominent placement in the shopping cart, where consumers are enticed by the promise of instant free shipping.</p><p><img title=

Promote the program everywhere. To drive maximum participation, give your loyalty program prominent placement throughout the eCommerce Web site and beyond. Feature it:

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