by Theresa McEndree | September 26, 2017
Retailers have long seen the value in providing rewards and rebates to consumers, often to reward or encourage behaviors like frequent or timely purchases. But incentive programs are not what they used to be. E-tail and smartphones have fundamentally changed the way people shop. The fading popularity of shopping malls and ever-evolving consumer demands have created a highly competitive retail environment that is changing more quickly than ever before. However, rewards-based promotions are highly desired and effective. In fact, reward-based promotions have been shown to exceed performance of discount-based promotions by over 21 percent for positive brand image creation.

Customers' preferences for redemption options, ease of program participation, reward variety, and fast delivery are all things to consider when designing a retail incentive program. When these elements are taken into account while also taking advantage of advancements in technology, rebate and promotion validation intelligence, and reward delivery, it is possible to deliver a better incentive experience.

Provide customers with the access they want
Incentive programs should also be omni-channel. A recent Hawk Incentives study found that, of the survey respondents, 78 percent of consumers prefer digital rebate submission over mail. Incentive programs like rebates, loyalty, thank you, and other rewards provide retail marketers tremendous engagement and data opportunities. However, don't make the mistake of shoehorning everyone into a mobile app or mail-in experience. Retailers today know that customers want to pick their own journey; it's nonlinear and they want choices. Your incentive program should be no different. 

Create ease of participation 
Data is a key component of any great incentive or rewards program -- but don't be greedy. A simple experience can create the opportunity to dramatically expand  customer engagement. Consumers want to engage -- so don't be overly burdensome in the information you collect. Try to curate the redemption experience on their behalf so the process is as simple and painless as possible. If you simplify your program criteria, you may also get additional survey responses, referrals, social shares, reviews, or more.

Offer reward variety
Variety is the spice of life -- and a critical component to reward program success. Recent Hawk Incentives research on reward preferences found that there wasn't a clear reward preferred for any demographic segment or dollar value. Across the board, consumers want choice, which includes the ability to choose their reward and how it's delivered. A reward card today can be delivered via physical card, email or even transferred to a mobile wallet. But consumer preference varies widely by application, value, and demographic. An effective program must offer reward choice for participants in order to satisfy a potentially diverse recipient group. Offering the right reward creates additional opportunities for positive brand engagement, bounceback and continued engagement. 

Speed of delivery 
You can improve the odds of consumers associating a positive customer experience with your brand by providing rapid rewards. According to research from Hawk Incentives, respondents say the ideal reward is delivered in less than a week. Innovations in technology now offer near-instant rewards, allowing shoppers to redeem easily, sometimes with as little as a few thumb swipes on a smartphone.  This can mean a faster, more rewarding experience, which can effectively engage your customers and drive desired post-purchase behavior. 

Top incentive solution providers deliver nimble SaaS technology, reward strategy and insights that allow you to adapt to consumer preferences and can aide in creating a positive customer experience. Whether your organization is large or small, it's important to work toward designing a retail incentive program that provides a positive customer experience while still meeting business objectives in the rapidly evolving modern retail world. 
 
Theresa McEndree is vice president of marketing for Hawk Incentives, a Blackhawk Network business that delivers incentive programs that build relationships with easy-to-use platforms, global rewards, and compelling program management. Our solutions include consumer, sales, channel, and employee incentive programs. With a focus on access, ease, rewards, and speed, we create a better incentives experience that helps our clients increase their results without increasing their investments.