Is your loyalty program ready for the AI revolution?

Is your loyalty program ready for the AI revolution?

Technology has transformed retailers’ ability to engage with their customers, with artificial intelligence (AI)-powered recommendations now set to drive even more rapid change. However, many APAC retailers are still struggling to adapt. In fact, research reveals that while 52 per cent of retailers in North America and 49 per cent of retailers in Europe personalise over half of the shopper journey, only 23 per cent of APAC retailers are meeting that goal.

In a competitive landscape where soaring inflation and sky-high mortgage rates are making consumers tighten their purse strings, the pressure is on for retailers to get personalisation right. Research commissioned by Google Cloud found that 75 per cent of shoppers prefer brands that personalise interactions and outreach to them, and 86 per cent want a brand that understands their interests and preferences.

At a recent Google event, I joined a panel with Cédric Chéreau, CEO and Co-Founder of Untie Nots and Sameer Dhingra, Director of Retail and Consumer at Google Cloud APAC, to share how digital technology can transform retailers’ approach to customer engagement. We unpack everything from one-to-one marketing capabilities, marketing in the moment and how AI and real-time technology are helping modern retailers get in on next-gen loyalty.

Moving from reactive to proactive engagement with technology

The shopper journey has dramatically changed. By the time the customer goes through discovery, awareness, consideration, purchase, the decision to buy from which outlet in which platform and which channel is purely a matter of convenience and choice, Dhingra explains.

Knowing this, the question then becomes: how do you get shoppers into your store? And if they are in your store, how can you then increase engagement conversions, basket value, basket size, etc in an efficient manner while balancing cost, risk and growth aspirations?

“Last year, we looked at the shopper journey and the retailers’ focus was largely on retention towards the end of the cycle. It was a bit reactive. Now, it’s shifted to real-time personalisation at the point of engagement – a more proactive way of engaging customers,” says Dhingra.

“This shift is causing retailers to look at where their innovation dollars are going. They want to know where they can spend to get the biggest bang for their buck. It’s interesting because technology is no longer the biggest obstacle to transformation – adoption and buy-in are. Innovation in hyper-personalisation and loyalty programs is spreading across the retail ecosystem. Retailers are becoming more proactive and less reactive thanks to advancements in technology.”

The ‘buzz’ on personalisation

More than a buzzword, personalisation is now a critical component of a retailer’s long-term success. Personalised offers have the potential to transform the way retailers engage with customers. In fact, McKinsey research shows that 71 per cent of consumers expect companies to deliver personalised interactions – and 76 per cent get frustrated when this doesn’t happen.

When it comes to building a loyal customer base, personalisation plays a crucial role in creating a meaningful and lasting connection with individual customers. It tailors the shopping experience to each customer’s unique preferences, interests and past behaviours. By offering personalised product recommendations, relevant offers and content that aligns with their preferences, customers feel valued and understood.

This heightened level of customer experience fosters a sense of loyalty – happy customers are more likely to return to a retailer that understands and caters to their unique needs. Satisfied, loyal customers are also more likely to become brand advocates and recommend the retailer to family and friends. Positive word-of-mouth advocacy leads to new customer acquisition and reinforces loyalty among existing customers.

The ‘golden rules’ of loyalty

Tim Mason, our current CEO, has a remarkable background as the former CMO of Tesco, where he played a key role in establishing the Tesco ClubCard. In the book “Omnichannel Retail,” which he co-authored with Sarah Jarvis, Mason reflects on his experiences during that time and imparts three significant marketing lessons he learned.

Tim Mason’s three ‘golden rules’ of loyalty

  1. Treat others as they’d like to be treated: When you’re designing your program, don’t treat people as you’d love them to be, treat them how they like to be treated.
  2. Reward the behaviour you seek: Become clear in understanding the behaviour that makes a real difference to your goals and incentivise customers accordingly.
  3. Follow the DIAL approach for continuous improvement: When you have a loyalty program, you are privy to a significant amount of customer Data, which provides Insight. But the key is to then turn those Insights into Action – something that makes a difference and sparks customer Loyalty.

AI and real-time technology for marketing in the moment

The interesting thing is, Mason’s fundamentals remain practically unchanged as time passes by. They’re a constant. What does change, however, is technology. Advancements in AI and real-time cloud platforms are revolutionising the loyalty landscape. And they feed off of data.

In retail, there’s nothing that generates as much data about customers as a loyalty program. There is a tremendous opportunity in the next few years to start using AI on the data generated by loyalty programs. For example, Eagle Eye together with Google Cloud gives retailers the ability to connect their customer data to a real-time platform in the cloud. This goes back to the DIAL methodology – enabling retailers to execute data-based insights in real-time to drive customer loyalty.

Currently, the majority of retailers are following a weekly cycle when it comes to issuing personalised offers to customers, but this can and will start to shift to a real-time model. Imagine customers walking near a Starbucks. Utilising real-time data, their favourite drink preference and the current weather conditions, the store can instantly create an offer tailored to the customers’ preferences to drive them into store.

This ability to execute real-time personalisation when a customer is most primed to make a purchasing decision is going to be a game-changer for retail, and is something we call “marketing in the moment”. Marketing in the moment takes historical customer understanding and blends that with real-time contextual data to determine the right content/message to send a customer at that exact moment in time. This, we believe, is the future of retail marketing.

Who is getting it right?

Untie Nots, a personalised promotions business acquired by Eagle Eye in January 2023, recently developed a suite of algorithms to tackle the shift from mass promotion to personalised promotions. By analysing customer behaviour and preferences, Untie Nots can precisely identify the right products for individual customers.

With its diverse algorithm family, including the:

  • People Pleaser: The data science algorithm ensuring that we can identify the right products for each customer individually, looking at what they bought in the past
  • Influencer: The algorithm identifying products that customers are not buying yet by using ‘look alikes’: customers that are very similar to them who are buying certain products
  • Chef: The algorithm that is building the right mix between a product that the customer is already buying and a product that he/she should be interested in
  • Diviner: The algorithm predicting how much money a customer would spend on a certain group of products over a period of time
  • Coach: The algorithm motivating the customer to spend a little bit more to become more loyal to the retailer
  • Moderator: The algorithm making sure that the coach is not asking too much out of the customer, ensuring that we define the right level of stretch in every offer put on the market
  • Motivator: The algorithm at the end, ensuring that the retailer offers the right reward

Untie Nots can deliver precisely targeted offers that customers are genuinely interested in. The result? A highly rewarding ROI, with every dollar distributed as a reward generating at least AUD$7 in incremental sales for the retailer.

“For the CPG, that figure is just slightly lower because the retailers benefit from what we call the ‘halo effect’ where you’re in-store buying the whole basket,” Chéreau says. “The entire solution is completely automated in the cloud. It doesn’t need a huge army of analysts to do that level of personalisation, and it’s very customer-centric. This is where the market is moving.”

Jonathan Reeve is vice president of APAC at Eagle Eye.