Borders launches free Wi-Fi in customer loyalty push

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Borders is using free Wi-Fi service, as well as other initiatives, to differentiate itself from competitors and increase membership in its loyalty program this holiday shopping season.

Jason Shriver, director of loyalty marketing at Borders, said that the company was, until recently, under contract with T-Mobile to provide subscriber-based Wi-Fi. “When our agreement ended, we seized on the opportunity to offer free Wi-Fi, which gives customers yet another reason to come to Borders,” he said.

When users log on to the free Wi-Fi service, Borders gives them the option to join its Borders Rewards program by submitting their e-mail addresses. Once a user opts in, he or she receives a coupon for $5 off a purchase made within two weeks as well as weekly e-mail newsletters with exclusive offers. The program currently has 35 million members.

“Our ongoing goal is to acquire and retain customers and, of course, drive sales,” Shriver said. “Our Rewards members are loyal customers, and we want to give them compelling reasons to shop at Borders.”

Shriver said the biggest differentiator between Borders' loyalty program and its competition is that it's free. Barnes & Noble, for instance, charges $25 per year for its membership program.

For every $150 in qualifying purchases, Borders Rewards members get $5 in credit. When making purchases, members must provide their e-mail addresses but do not need to show their membership cards, which Shriver says is another incentive.

In addition to the Wi-Fi prompt, Borders is promoting the loyalty program on its Web site, through in-store signage, by in-store associates and via the Borders Shortlist, a weekly e-mail that provides other savings offers as well as book, music and movie recommendations from buyers.

Shriver said the e-mails are customized by consumer purchasing behavior and geographic location. Borders also sends “author e-mails” about books that customers might like.

Last week, Borders launched its “in-stock guarantee,” which promises consumers that if a product is out of stock in the store, but available on, the company will ship it to the consumer's home for free. This program runs through December 16, which is the final date that items are guaranteed to reach consumers in time for Christmas.

The company has also expanded its kids and teen sections to include items like journals, t-shirts, jewelry and pajamas. Borders has also developed “teaching zones,” or sections dedicated to teachers that include professional development books and educational titles.

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