McKinsey: Introducing the Australian Consumer Loyalty Survey


February 2, 2023

By guest authors Karthikeyan Swaminathan, Joseph Tesvic, Amanda Winchester, and Katrina Yavash, all from McKinsey. Karthikeyan Swaminathan is a capabilities and insights expert in McKinsey’s Chennai office; Joseph Tesvic is a senior partner in the Sydney office, where Amanda Winchester is an associate partner and Katrina Yavash is a consultant.

Consumer-facing organisations in Australia can overcome declining consumer sentiment by investing in their loyalty programmes.

High-performing loyalty programmes have real potential to offset the challenges confronting consumer-facing organizations in the wake of a highly uncertain macroeconomic environment. Organizations with top loyalty programs can expect higher sales and greater bang for their customer acquisition bucks, with customers enrolled in these programs spending more, churning less, and demonstrating a greater willingness to recommend their favored brands to others. But what does a high-performing loyalty program look like?

We surveyed more than 1400 Australian consumers on their experiences interacting with more than 90 loyalty programs across 11 different industries. In this McKinsey Australia Insight, we detail the findings from this survey and share our recommendations for organizations looking to establish or rethink their loyalty programmes.

Macroeconomic context: Economic headwinds are testing consumer loyalties

As our most recent Australian Consumer Pulse report outlines, consumer optimism is falling, with consumers reducing spending across most categories and showing a growing willingness to switch products, brands, and channels in search of better value. These changes have been heightened by the macroeconomic environment, with supply chain disruptions limiting on-shelf availability in retail and rising inflation creating new cost-of-living challenges. This decline in loyalty has been seen at every income level, with consumers with the highest incomes, those earning more than AUD 125000, found to be the most likely to switch between retailers.

Key insights from the survey

Our survey revealed five key insights for consumer-facing organizations:

  1. Loyalty programmes significantly alter customer behaviour
    Sixty percent of consumers surveyed indicated that simply being a member of an organization’s loyalty program had prompted them to change their spending behavior by at least one of the following: increasing their purchasing frequency, more frequently choosing the organization over competitors, being more willing to recommend the brand to others, or being more willing to pay a premium for loyalty points or enhanced loyalty status.
  2. Gains are not evenly distributed, with top-performing loyalty programs seeing up to four times the benefits of other programmes
    Consumers were 10 % more likely to shop with an organisation with a top loyalty program, 14 % more likely to increase frequency of purchases, and 12 % more likely to recommend the brand to others, when compared with results for bottom quartile programmes.1 Further, organisations with top loyalty programs saw 44 % more consumers reporting an increase in spend during the COVID-19 pandemic, with retention up to four times higher than for organisations with lower-performing loyalty programmes.
  3. Awareness presents a challenge to organisations in every sector, with transportation and delivery apps doing the best job of promoting their loyalty programs
    Familiarity with loyalty programs varies widely across industries (Exhibit 1), from 30 % for airlines to 75 % for transportation apps.

Grocery and retail organisations see the greatest engagement with their loyalty programmes
Grocery and retail loyalty programmes were the most frequently used, with 70 % of consumers reporting using their grocery loyalty program almost every time they shop.2 In contrast, airline loyalty programs saw the lowest engagement from consumers, with almost 50 % reporting rarely or never using their loyalty programme (Exhibit 2).

  1.  Rewards win, but gamification presents a valuable Rewards win, but gamification presents a valuable opportunity
    Of the top five most valued features in a loyalty program, four refer to a customer’s ability to redeem points for products (Exhibit 3). The value placed on tangible benefits explains the trend seen in Exhibit 2, where consumers were most likely to engage with loyalty programmes in grocery and retail—that is, the sectors in which they make the most frequent purchases and are, therefore, able to redeem points in the shortest time frames. However, gamification also made the top five—demonstrating the value of an exciting user experience for consumers and a clear opportunity for organizations looking to invest in their loyalty programmes.

Four steps to creating a winning loyalty programme

From our work with organisations across industries, we see four steps that organizations can take as they look to establish or rethink their loyalty programs:

  1. Invest in customer data analytics to drive usage. Leverage the data you have on your existing customers and their spending habits to run targeted digital-marketing campaigns.
  2. Visualise tangible benefits to encourage engagement. Ensure that customers can easily see their up-to-date progress toward earning rewards.
  3. Gamify the programme to improve customer experience. Invest in a gamified user experience that customers look forward to engaging with.
  4. Build a community to boost awareness. Broaden the reach of your loyalty program by creating a community of customers with a shared passion for your brand.

Invest in customer data analytics to drive usage

With decreasing brand loyalty, it can be tempting for organisations to cast a wide net when promoting their loyalty programs. However, we have found that these efforts are better spent on an organisation’s existing customer base; 24 % of consumers who shop with a given brand, but do not participate in that brand’s loyalty program, stated that they were unaware that a loyalty programme existed.

Organisations can plug this gap in awareness through omnichannel marketing, making use of the customer data they already have. This could take the form of analyzing demographic, geospatial, and purchase data to make predictions on what offers would best appeal to a customer. These offers can encourage customers to use the loyalty program more frequently.

Case example: Starbucks credits the success of its mobile app and associated loyalty program with its ability to customize the offers customers receive, with the most relevant promotions selected by their “Deep Brew” AI engine. Further, the app demonstrates knowledge of customer pain points—removing ordering friction by enabling customers to skip the line and addressing the relevance barrier that other programmes may face.

Visualise tangible benefits to encourage engagement

When combined with the value many consumers attach to a seamless digital experience, organizations can retain loyalty programme members by making it easier to track points earned across channels in an attractive interface, including showing up-to-date progress toward attaining tangible rewards. Businesses can draw inspiration from the interfaces many consumers are used to seeing on their fitness trackers, highlighting the requirements to reach the next (large or small) milestone.

Case example: Farfetch, an online luxury fashion retailer, has recognized the impact of a simple progress bar in nudging consumers to make additional purchases. Their loyalty program has five tiers, ranging from Bronze to Platinum to Private Client. Tiers are achieved at different spend thresholds, with a single purchase required for Bronze and an annual spend of AUD 15000 to reach Private Client status. Each tier has a range of associated rewards, from discounts to access to exclusive collections and a concierge service. At every level, the Farfetch app informs users of their current tier and of the exact spend required to reach the next tier and the next level of rewards.

Gamify the programme to improve customer experience

In a mobile-first environment, loyalty schemes must provide more than just a seamless digital experience. Gamification—that is, allowing consumers to earn greater rewards through bonus points, challenges, or multipliers—was ranked among the most important features for a loyalty program across all industries. This kind of gamified experience can be enhanced by incorporating personalized offers or multipliers, based on customers’ purchase history and known preferences.

Case example: FREE NOW, a European ride-hailing service, has embraced gamification through its mobile app. Users accumulate points with every ride they take. These points can be saved and used to purchase discounted trips with the app’s ride-hailing or e-scooter services. Alternatively, users can opt to use their points to “spin the wheel,” spending fewer points for the chance to win greater discounts.

Build a community to boost awareness

Creating online and in-person communities of customers and potential customers, with a shared passion for a product, can create cycles of positive reinforcement and give customers a sense of belonging. Here, interactions with the brand and with other customers can take place side by side, increasing the perceived authenticity of an organization’s brand communication.

While many brands use their social-media channels to support the goal of creating a community, high-performing brands can augment these channels through exclusive invites to in-store events. Such events have continued to be popular among shoppers, even post-COVID-19.

Case example: Mecca Beauty Loop offers customers who have reached certain membership tiers access to priority in-store events, creating the potential for in-person communities to form across its customer base. Further, Beauty Loop birthday gifts and sample boxes, which are sent to customers who cross certain spend thresholds, have generated significant positive social-media content for the brand. Many customers post “unboxing” videos to TikTok and Instagram, showcasing Mecca’s products to their followers and strengthening the Mecca community.

What to remember

No single industry or organisation has a magic solution for attracting consumers to their loyalty programmes, nor engaging them in a way that consistently drives usage and increases customer value. Our work on this topic has shown that the key to driving loyalty can be found in deep, data-driven investment in understanding the habits, preferences, and pain points of organisations’ target customers. Companies must embrace a customer-centric mindset to boost loyalty and enjoy the resultant greater spend and satisfaction from customers.