8 Types of Customer Loyalty Programs

By Thomas Bennett Financial expert at Priceva
Published on October 9, 2023
In an increasingly competitive marketplace where the battle for consumer wallets is intensifying, price undoubtedly takes the spotlight. But what if the price tags are identical? Which product will the consumer choose? It's the one they trust, the one they're loyal to. Now more than ever, brands need to demonstrate that they value their customers and will go to great lengths to keep them in their corner.

Loyalty Programs: A Powerful Retention Tool

Loyalty programs serve as one of the most potent tools for customer retention. Let's delve into the various types of loyalty programs out there and which one may best meet your customers' needs.

What Is a Customer Loyalty Program?

Loyalty programs are incredibly diverse. Some companies may adopt a single model, while others may blend two or more. A customer loyalty program is a structured strategy that combines communication, software, hardware, commercial incentives, marketing tactics, and sometimes even gamification, with the aim of fostering stronger relationships between the brand and its customers.

Types of Customer Loyalty Programs

There are countless variations of loyalty programs, but for the purpose of this article, we'll focus on eight of the most prevalent ones today.

1. Point-Based or "Earn and Burn" Programs

"Earn and Burn" loyalty programs are the simplest and most widespread in retail. Their philosophy is straightforward: the more you spend, the more you earn.

Each time a customer makes a purchase, either in-store or online, they accumulate points based on the total amount spent. These points can then be redeemed for rewards, be it discounts or other forms of customer incentives. In this model, customers are motivated to accrue a certain number of points to claim the promised reward.

Is This Type of Loyalty Program Right for You?
- If your customers have a high frequency of purchases
- If you specialize in selling products, rather than services
- If your brand is positioned based on "value for money"
- If launching new products quickly is a high priority
- If your philosophy is "the simpler, the better"

If you find yourself agreeing with most of these statements, then your business will likely benefit from an "Earn and Burn" loyalty program.

Customers who appreciate this type of program are usually those who are keen on finding value in their purchases. The point accumulation system allows you to identify these value-driven customers as they engage with your online store.

The "Earn and Burn" approach appeals to a broad customer base and is especially effective for businesses that want to incentivize repeat buying while keeping things simple and straightforward.

Advantages of the "Earn and Burn" Loyalty Programs

Quick Implementation
"Earn and Burn" loyalty programs don't discriminate between customers, eliminating the need for further segmentation. Since only purchases are rewarded, implementation is quick and straightforward.

Managing "Earn and Burn" programs is uncomplicated because the rate at which rewards are redeemed is limited by the volume of points accumulated. This makes it easy to predict and control costs.

High Perceived Value
Customers view these programs as valuable offers, and the rewards have a higher perceived worth than their actual cost.

Additionally, unredeemed points are a savings boon for brands. Experience shows that a significant percentage of accumulated points will never be redeemed, contributing to cost-efficiency.

Ease of Use
The rule for "Earn and Burn" is simple: accumulate points and use them for partial or full redemption on your next purchase. This simplicity enables customers to quickly understand the system and start accumulating points.

Facilitating Customer Identification
Since online purchases are rewarded, customers are more willing to identify themselves by completing a profile to join the loyalty program.

Recommended For:
- Companies with a high frequency of purchases and quick buying decisions.
- Brands and retailers selling physical goods.
- Brands competing on a price-to-quality ratio.

Customers can unlock rewards by making a series of purchases or reaching a particular threshold. In most cases, the incentive could be a free product or a one-time service.

By aligning these advantages, "Earn and Burn" loyalty programs not only help to retain existing customers but also act as a strategic lever to attract new ones. They offer a flexible, effective, and scalable way to create lasting customer relationships.

2. Tiered Loyalty Programs: Building Long-term Customer Relationships

One effective way to strike the right balance between attainable and aspirational rewards is to implement a tiered loyalty program. At its core, this program employs a multi-level reward structure.

In a nutshell, customers earn points each time they make a purchase. The more points they accumulate, the higher their loyalty level. And the higher the level, the more substantial the rewards they can access.

When Is a Tiered Loyalty Program Suitable for Your Business?

- If your customers require a longer decision-making process before purchasing,
- If your products appeal not just to rational needs but also to emotional desires,
- If quality service is a priority for your clientele,
- If you're willing to offer additional benefits to customers with high purchase values,
- If your goal is to build long-term relationships with customers.

If most of these points resonate with you, a tiered loyalty program could be your ideal choice. These programs distribute levels based on status and offer exclusive benefits to higher tiers, making them popular among affluent and discerning customers.

Advantages of Tiered Loyalty Programs

1. Enhance Status Value: Levels are associated with benefits that progressively increase in value. The higher the tier, the more exclusive and valuable the rewards.

2. Cultivate Long-term Relationships: Tiered programs sustain customer interest over longer periods. Reaching a higher level is seen as an achievement, motivating continued participation.

3. Manage Member Activity: This type of program allows for more effective segmentation of your customer base. It enables you to control, analyze, and tailor your services and communications to the interests and activities of the program participants.

4. Leverage Behavioral Tendencies: The power of habit dictates that people are more motivated to prevent the loss of something they find valuable. This is why participants in these programs are focused on maintaining their current level as well as aspiring to reach higher ones.

5. Differentiate from Competitors: The efforts customers have invested in attaining the benefits of higher tiers act as a substantial barrier against switching to competitors.

Recommended For:
Tiered loyalty programs are most suitable for luxury brands and retailers in the fashion, lifestyle, beauty and health, sports, and home décor sectors.

3. Gamified Loyalty Programs: Where Playfulness Meets Profitability

Who doesn't love to play? Research has long shown that game mechanics resonate well across all age groups. An innovative approach for businesses is to transform their loyalty programs into game-based apps. This can drive repeat purchases, elevate customer loyalty, entertain clients, and reinforce brand identity through various game-like interactions.

When to Consider a Gamified Loyalty Program for Your Business:
- If shared values with your clients are a priority for you,
- If you aim to engage customers emotionally as well as rationally,
- If stimulating repeat customer behavior is one of your goals,
- If you want to reward client actions that aren’t directly related to purchases.

If you answered yes to most of these points, you'll benefit from a gamified loyalty program, which engages customers through a series of tasks or game mechanics.

The Objectives of Gamified Loyalty Programs:
The goal is to spur members to undertake activities valuable to your business. These could be activities such as submitting reviews, being active on social media, or visiting your website multiple times a month.

What makes this category particularly intriguing is that gamified programs pair excellently with other types of customer loyalty schemes, like 'Earn and Burn' or tiered loyalty programs.

Advantages of Gamified Loyalty Programs

1. Encourage Repeat Behavior: To make beneficial progress, customers must engage in activities valuable to your brand, fostering new habits in the process.

2. Prompt Specific Actions: Each task or game mechanic is designed to align with your business objectives. These activities provide insights into how customers prefer to interact with your brand.

3. Expand Interaction Channels: Beyond website-based tasks, you can create assignments that stimulate customer engagement across various communication platforms. For example, you could sync tasks with social media activities, encouraging content creation or participation in gamified quizzes and contests.

4. Enhance Engagement: The interactive and entertaining format of such programs easily captivates customers, inviting them to interact with your brand more deeply. Utilizing the insights gained from how customers respond to your incentives can be instrumental for future loyalty program strategies.

Who Should Use Gamified Loyalty Programs:

- Companies that aim to build a community around their brand,
- Retailers and brands focusing on cultivating loyalty through emotional engagement,
- Businesses that align with the values of their customer base.

Gamified loyalty programs offer a versatile, fun, and effective means of nurturing long-term customer relationships while achieving key business objectives.

4. Loyalty Communities – Exclusive Clubs for Brand Advocates

Loyalty communities are essentially mini-clubs based on specific themes, interests, or values that resonate with your customers, fortifying your relationship with them. Joining such a club not only offers an immersive experience but also helps you create a community of like-minded individuals.

When to Consider a Loyalty Community for Your Business:

- If community building is a crucial part of your strategy,
- If you already have a loyalty program but wish to expand it,
- If offering a personalized experience is a priority,
- If you aim to attract clients through shared interests or core values,
- If your goal is to establish a stronger brand identity.

Like gamified programs, these are best used in conjunction with another type of loyalty program.

Advantages of Loyalty Communities

1. Amplify Existing Loyalty Programs: Communities are not standalone loyalty programs but act as an extension to an existing loyalty program framework, such as 'Earn and Burn,' adding new touchpoints.

2. Create Relevant Experiences for Each Customer Group: The goal is to offer each of your customer segments an experience that transcends mere transactions, setting you apart from competitors.

3. Engage Customers Through Their Interests: Communities can focus around a popular product like a gaming console, lifestyle or hobbies like running or wellness, or even ethical values.

4. Aid in Brand Building: Associate your brand with a sense of belonging, attracting clients with specific interests. Membership in the community can be free or tied to certain conditions for joining.

5. Highly Personalized Experience: By focusing on a smaller audience with common interests, you'll get to know these clients better and can offer targeted promotions that truly resonate with their interests and values.

Practical Application:

For example, sportswear brands, fitness clubs, and beauty salons could create communities that encourage a healthy lifestyle, facilitating the exchange of useful tips or intriguing recipes.

Who Should Use Loyalty Communities:

- Brands and retailers that aim to strengthen their brand identity,
- Companies that strive to attract customers with specific values,
- Businesses that want to cultivate a sense of belonging among customers.

Loyalty communities allow brands to dive deeper into the nuances of their customer relationships, offering experiences that are both individualized and aligned with broader community values. This creates a multi-dimensional relationship that is likely to endure, benefiting both the consumer and the brand in the long term.

5. Coalition Loyalty Programs – Multiple Brands United in One Program

Coalition loyalty programs bring multiple brands under one umbrella, offering rewards and benefits that span across the network of involved companies.

When to Consider a Coalition Loyalty Program:

- If your outlets are located in shopping malls,
- If your business is closely related to a diverse range of partners/tenants,
- If your goal is to gather comprehensive data on your customers,
- If your primary KPI is to increase repeat purchases and customer lifetime value,
- If you aim to establish cross-brand collaborations and measure their effectiveness.

Who Could Benefit Most:

- Shopping malls or stores renting spaces within them,
- Businesses that want to utilize a partner network to increase touchpoints with customers.

Advantages of Coalition Loyalty Programs

1. Customer Identification: Choose from a wide range of technologies and integrations to create a seamless customer journey and facilitate easy identification and reward processing.

2. Increased Value Through Joint Tenant Offers: Coalition programs allow partners to create a unified customer database that can be constantly enriched with new information.

3. One-Stop Overview for Customers: Customers gain the ability to view all current offers in one place and manage their accumulated points according to their preferences.

4. Use of Co-Branded Gamification: Opportunities arise for launching co-branded social media contests, organizing promotional campaigns with joint prize funds, and implementing a multi-brand referral system to achieve a memorable customer experience.

Practical Application:

Coalition loyalty programs are especially useful for shopping malls aiming to increase footfall or for companies looking to boost the appeal of their existing loyalty programs without a large budget. They can join forces with other brands, allowing customers to earn and spend points across multiple vendors. This not only increases the attractiveness of each individual brand's offers but also maximizes customer engagement by providing a broader range of rewards.

Who Should Use Coalition Loyalty Programs:

- Shopping malls working to increase visitation,
- Companies looking for partners to enhance the appeal of their loyalty program without a significant budget.

Coalition loyalty programs offer an intricate network of benefits that can substantially improve customer engagement and retention. They are particularly effective for businesses that are part of larger ecosystems, such as shopping malls, where customers interact with multiple brands. By joining such a program, brands can deliver an enriched customer experience while benefiting from shared resources and data.

6. Paid Loyalty Programs or VIP Club Memberships

In these types of programs, customers pay a monthly or annual fee to gain access to a VIP club, which offers special services, discounts, or unique opportunities. The benefits offered must be exclusive to the membership, or the program risks losing its value.

Suitable for Companies that:

- Operate in a highly competitive, fragmented, or undifferentiated market,
- Have customers who expect high-quality service and personalized attention,
- Want to elevate the quality of their audience,
- Aim to identify the most valuable customers,
- Are willing to offer valuable benefits that set your brand apart from competitors.

Advantages of Paid Loyalty Programs

1. Identifies Most Loyal Customers: The upfront payment for these exclusive programs attracts highly valuable customers. Only those genuinely loyal to your brand are willing to pay for premium privileges.

2. Emotional Engagement: Recognizing the exclusivity of such customers by the brand, and the reciprocal feeling of gratitude from the members, connects the customers and your brand on an emotional level.

3. Increased ROI: Higher frequency of purchases, larger basket sizes, and brand loyalty are all ensured through a paid loyalty program.

4. Quality Customer Data: The data you gather on purchasing behaviors and personal interests can be used to personalize the experience for members.

5. Long-Term Engagement: Members of such programs tend to interact with the brand more often and over a longer period.

Who Should Consider Paid Loyalty Programs:

- Luxury brands,
- E-commerce platforms,
- Pharmacies,
- Media and entertainment websites,
- Clothing brands,
- Brands related to sports and a healthy lifestyle.

Practical Application:

Customers who opt into a paid loyalty program are more likely to be committed to the brand, as they want to maximize the benefits. However, it's crucial that these customers find real value in the exclusive services or products they receive in exchange for their membership fees. For example, you could offer double points for each purchase, exclusive gifts from limited collections, or more valuable rewards on birthdays.

A paid loyalty program can be particularly effective for companies seeking to differentiate themselves in crowded markets. The program should offer genuinely unique benefits and should be marketed in such a way as to emphasize the exclusivity and value added by the membership. Overall, a paid loyalty program can help increase customer retention, build stronger brand loyalty, and provide valuable data for personalizing future offers and services.

7. Lifestyle or Value-Based Loyalty Programs

If you align your loyalty program with the values of your customers, there is a greater likelihood that they will become committed to your brand. The key task is to choose rewards that resonate with the values of your target audience.

Suitable for Companies that:

- Have clients committed to an eco-friendly lifestyle,
- Target younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Z,
- Aim to encourage a more active social life or a healthier lifestyle among their customer base.

How it Works:

Firstly, it's crucial to identify the values that matter to your target audience. For instance, an online pet store knows that its customer base cares about animal welfare. A loyalty program could involve a charity aspect, where every dollar spent by customers converts into a donation to an animal welfare foundation voted on by customers.

Advantages of Value-Based Loyalty Programs

1. Customer Engagement Outside the Buying Cycle: Offering rewards for actions like community service or environmental activism keeps your brand in the customer's mind outside of purchase transactions.

2. Brand Image Strengthening: Customers feel better spending money when they know that your company shares their values. This is especially crucial for businesses targeting Millennials and Gen Z.

3. Encouraging a Positive Lifestyle: Having an app that tracks the actions of loyalty program members in real-time can instantly reward points for certain lifestyle choices. For example, the app could reward points for walking 10,000 steps in a day.

By becoming a part of the customer's daily life and adopting their lifestyle, you're not just selling a product or service but are contributing to their overall well-being. This strengthens brand loyalty.

Practical Applications:
For a pet shop, each purchase could convert into a small donation to an animal welfare charity.

For a sportswear brand, reward points could be earned not just by making purchases but also by completing fitness challenges.

Who Should Use Value-Based Loyalty Programs:
- Sportswear brands,
- Fitness centers,
- Insurance companies,
- Pharmacies,
- Pet shops.

8. Hybrid Loyalty Programs: The Ultimate Guide to Customer Retention

A hybrid loyalty program is a dynamic fusion of various types of customer loyalty programs. Imagine blending the intricacies of a tiered program with the excitement of a gamification-based one. Customers ascend loyalty tiers each time they complete a level in your interactive game, with each level, of course, designed to encourage purchases.

The Power of Adaptability

Hybrid loyalty programs are adaptable powerhouses that offer the best of all worlds. Their flexibility allows you to manage a wider range of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), helping you craft an ultra-unique concept that's perfectly aligned with your brand's image.

It's worth noting that many loyalty programs start as a single type but morph into a hybrid model over time, based on customer feedback and the integration of new features.

The Most Common Combination

The most prevalent form of hybrid loyalty programs blends a tier-based system with a points-based one. This approach is transparent: customers always know how many points they've accumulated and are motivated to earn more to reach higher, more lucrative tiers.

Advantages of Adopting Hybrid Loyalty Programs

1. Curate the Best of All Worlds: Hybrid programs let you skirt the limitations of individual program types and unlock their full potential. Start with essential features from one type and seamlessly integrate them with other effective elements as you go.

2. Blend KPIs for Comprehensive Insights: Each type of program comes with its specific KPIs. With a hybrid approach, you can easily achieve not just commercial KPIs but also image-based ones such as brand awareness and reputation.

3. Target Your Core Audience: Tailor a hybrid loyalty program that truly resonates with your audience. Optimize the program over time by introducing elements from different program structures that genuinely appeal to your customers.

4. Flexibility From the Get-Go: Mix and match various elements from different types of programs and observe what works best. You're not locked into a single concept; you can always offer your customers something new and exciting.


Will loyalty programs continue to be relevant in the evolving marketplace? The answer is a resounding yes! The key lies in how effectively your program meets your customers' expectations.

To achieve success, it's crucial to understand your customers' key motivations and needs. Then choose from the plethora of loyalty program types to create the perfect program that aligns with both your business model and your target audience.

So if you're looking for an adaptable, effective way to retain customers, a hybrid loyalty program could very well be your best bet.

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