Thursday, October 6, 2011

Amazon and the future of loyalty marketing: rewards now, not later.

I’ve long been a fan of Amazon and as proof carry an Visa Rewards Card in my wallet. Sure, the interest rate is a few points higher than my primary credit card, but I’m a sucker for the points. I earn one for every dollar I spend and a whopping 3 points for every dollar spent on the Amazon Web site.

Over the past several years, the Amazon program worked like most others: you waited for your points to add up to a certain threshold, continually checking your balance online or on your monthly bill, and then ordered your reward. While there were a number of options, I always went for the $25 Amazon certificate available at 25,000 points.

But last month, something changed: while checking out, I noticed a small prompt about using my current point balance toward the payment of my order. Sure enough, I had earned 1693 points since my last cert was issued—and was able to apply a $16.93 credit to my purchase, right on the spot.

I mean, how convenient was that! No checking my points balance to see if I had reached the 25,000 point threshold, no ordering a certificate, no waiting 3-4 weeks for the cert to appear in the mail. I was able to get instant savings and in turn, instant gratification.

Now I can imagine this scares the bejesus out of some loyalty marketers because, having worked in hardcore points-based loyalty for several years, I know the philosophy. By forcing people to reach elevated point thresholds, you keep them as customers—because they have to stick around and make additional purchases to reach these thresholds, and are less likely to abandon their points for a competitor.

But you know what—the times in the loyalty marketing game are changing, with a mix of established and newer companies leading the charge. For example, check out the following recent developments:

*Marriott announced Marriott Rewards® Instant Redemption which enables members to redeem points on the spot at participating US hotels—for “dinner, cocktails, massage, golf…even a room upgrade…with no certificates, no waiting.”

*Location-based marketer Foursquare inked a deal with American Express to enable its 10 million cardholders to redeem location-based deals by swiping their AmEx card—giving them access to instant membership rewards.

*Online retailer (as reported by Internet Retailer) rolled out “a customer loyalty program with a new twist. Instead of launching a traditional customer loyalty program that lets shoppers gather points…they reward customers with instant product discounts.”

I say it’s only a matter of time before all the traditional points-based loyalty marketers, including the airline programs, jump on the instant rewards bandwagon—or find themselves left behind by the competition. Sure, there may be a place for the hard-earned mega-point reward, but you better give your customers the option of quick and instant rewards and recognition.

What do you think?

This post originally appeared on Loyalty Truth and was written by Tom Rapsas.