Piggly Wiggly's fun is serious business

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Though it sounds like a great name for a retro oldies band, I'm actually referring to loyalty program best practices when I talk about Pig Perks and the Perkolators.
Pig Perks is a loyalty initiative being tested by grocery chain Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. (affectionately known as "the Pig") at selected South Carolina locations. Customers access Perks offers at front-of-store kiosks. Not incidentally, "kiosk" is a funny word, but it isn't a fun word.
"We don't like to call them kiosks," Diane Colgan, Piggly Wiggly Carolina director of marketing, told me when I called to ask about the Perks. "We think they're a lot more fun than that, so we call them Perkolators."
So what's all this fuss about fun? It's a core driver of the Pig Perks program design.
A little background: Pig Perks is layered on Piggly Wiggly's existing loyalty initiative, participation in the Greenbax coalition. Customers who earn Greenbax points at the Pig can redeem them right there or at other Greenbax participants (from dry cleaners to restaurants to convenience stores), and, of course, the reverse is true.
Greenbax members automatically qualify for Perks, which are offers and rewards above and beyond the Greenbax points, tailored to members' purchase history. That's relevance, in itself a critical component.
And the Pig Perks program has a number of well-designed customer relationship components, not the least of which are the tracking and testing that it allows. Customers cannot benefit from specials until they view them (in essence, activating them) at the kio- ... um ... Perkolator. This not only serves to alert customers to what otherwise would be considered "advertised specials" and encouraging increased spending, but also lets the Pig track information such as sales versus impressions in hard numbers that advertising and couponing can't allow. Convenience and efficiency are also important program components.
But key to this discussion is the matter of customer delight. For many, grocery shopping is drudgery. So let's perk it up (pun intended). The first thing the Perkolator displays is a spinner game. If three spinners match when they stop, the customer wins a prize such as products or cash.
Then the kiosk gets down to business. It lists the customer's Greenbax reward balance, then displays a today-only special as well as specials good for the month. But along with offering savings, the specials often are designed to delight. Ms. Colgan cited giving away an issue of Wine Spectator magazine to a participating customer who previously made wine purchases.
"It's something different," she said. "You didn't expect it. Part of the design of Pig Perks is the chance to surprise people. We're always trying to figure out ways to do that."
You can't base a program entirely on surprise and delight and fun (and Pig Perks doesn't), but those elements are powerful building blocks. The most successful loyalty programs feature a strong mix of benefits: immediate rewards and rewards you have to work toward, hard benefits and soft, and so on. Mix in some fun, for these reasons:
• Fun attracts and engages. Replace some of that drudgery with enjoyment.
• Fun is a differentiator. Everybody offers discounts. But can your competitors offer giggles, too?
• Most of all, fun is relevant. A free issue of a wine magazine is no fun if you don't drink wine. If you do, it's fun. Relevance is fun. And vice versa.
If the Pig Perks pilot flies, Piggly Wiggly Carolina will roll out the initiative to the rest of its 100-plus stores in early 2007, market by market or perhaps chainwide.
By the by, Piggly Wiggly Carolina calls its version of the foundation loyalty program "PFC Greenbax." The initials stand for "Pig's Favorite Customers," but I submit that they introduce the concept of Pig's Fun Coalition just as appropriately. Keep in mind, though, that "Pig's Fun Coalition" is a lousy name for a retro oldies band ... and doesn't "The Perkolators" sound like a great horn section?

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