Customer loyalty never goes out of style. But finding new ways to engage customers and keep them coming back can be challenging. Vintage-inspired clothing and accessories company Unique Vintage discovered the perfect ensemble by leveraging brand advocates and rewarding customers for engagement.
Brand advocacy is always in fashion
Unique Vintage began capitalizing on its brand advocates two years ago when it implemented enterprise SaaS provider Social Annex’s Sharing and Referrals solution—a platform that rewards both the referrer for recommending a product and the recipient for reviewing and purchasing the suggested item.
Here’s how it works: A referrer can click on the “Share and Save” widget on Unique Vintage’s website to share an item she thinks her friend would like. The item can be shared via email, Facebook, or Twitter and in the form of a customized or automated message. The message contains a designated link that, if clicked on, will direct the recipient back to Unique Vintage’s site and show them a targeted pop-up containing a 10%-off promo code. If the recipient clicks on the link, the referrer receives a message containing a 10%-off discount as a thank-you for referring her friend. And, if the recipient ends up making a purchase, then the referrer receives a message containing a $10-off coupon.
By marrying peer-to-peer recommendations with incentives to share and buy, Unique Vintage has been able to acquire customers and generate powerful ROI. “Those users that are interacting with [the Share and Save widget] are converting a good 150% higher than users that don’t,” says Courtney Lear Wallace, director of digital marketing and e-commerce for Unique Vintage.
After seeing a return on investment from the initiative, Unique Vintage wanted to build on the advocacy it developed through its Share and Save widget. So the retailer decided to launch its own loyalty program, Devoted Darling Rewards, and implement Social Annex’s customer loyalty solution. About a year later, during the 2014 Black Friday weekend, the company introduced the program.
A modern take on the old loyalty program
The reasoning behind debuting the program during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year was twofold: First, Lear Wallace wanted to introduce some excitement and exclusivity to its Black Friday weekend deals. Second, she wanted to make it easy for customers to return to the site once the holiday hoopla was over. So, with an initial goal of doubling the retailer’s account sign-ups year-over-year, Unique Vintage’s marketers decided to give it a go.
“It had been on our radar for a while,” Lear Wallace says. “It had just gotten to the point where it was now or never.”
Customers can enroll in the program by visiting Unique Vintage’s website and signing up through a social login or by providing their name and email address in a separate form. This social and email data is stored with Unique Vintage’s email service provider Bronto Software, which the company also uses as its CRM tool, and connects to Social Annex’s platform. Loyalty program members can then earn points. Once they receive 2,500 points, they receive a $10 credit.
But instead of solely awarding customers points based on amount spent, Unique Vintage also rewards members for engagement. So, while customers can earn 10 points for every $1 they spend, they can also receive 100 points for signing up for Unique Vintage’ email list, 25 points for writing a review, and five points for sharing a product and having another shopper click back to the site. According to Social Annex’s founder and CEO, Al Lalani, the retailer has engagement caps in place to prevent customers from gaming the system.
Lear Wallace says rewarding customers for their engagement, instead of just their purchases, helps Unique Vintage maintain a consistent conversation with its customers and keep them coming back to the site. “We’re also able to incentivize these micro-conversions,” she says. Plus, she says, the program is a great customer acquisition tool, and the results from Black Friday weekend support this idea. Lear Wallace says that Unique Vintage “completely exceeded” its goal of doubling its account sign-ups.
The main accessory
Email plays a major role in terms of educating customers about the loyalty program and keeping them engaged.
After customers enroll in the loyalty program, they receive a welcome series, including this email below. This message tells them how to log in to their account, the activities they can do once they’re logged in, and how they can contact Unique Vintage’s customer service team if they have any questions.
The welcome emails also reveal ways members can engage and earn points. One way is by sharing images of themselves wearing Unique Vintage’s clothing along with the hashtag #uniquevintage. Using Social Annex’s Visual Commerce solution, Unique Vintage can collect this user-generated content and feature the images in its emails or on its online gallery. Each image in the gallery includes a link back to the featured clothing item’s product page, as well as links to the product pages of related items.
Another way customers can earn points is by signing up for Unique Vintage’s email list—which provides product information, sales updates, contests, and more. Even though customers provide their email address when enrolling in the loyalty program, they are not automatically added to the email distribution list. Indeed, Unique Vintage treats its triggered emails and marketing emails as separate programs. This double opt-in, Lear Wallace explains, gives customers the opportunity to learn about the loyalty program through the welcome series before committing to a newsletter.
“We also want to be respectful of users that aren’t interested in getting emails,” she says. “In that case they’re more rewarded on the social side and on the purchasing side.”
Even if customers decide they don’t want to be added to Unique Vintage’s promotional email list, they’ll still receive triggered emails notifying them of their loyalty point status. For example, if a customer has 2,000 points—so, is 500 points away from the 2,500-point reward threshold—she will receive an email notifying her that she is close to meeting the mark. The message also will provide her with engagement opportunities to help her meet that reward threshold. Plus, once the customer does meet that threshold, she will receive a triggered message notifying her of the achievement along with a code that will allow her to receive her $10 credit. She will also receive a series of reminder emails until she uses the credit.
So far, Unique Vintage has generated outsize results from the program. At the time of this writing, Lear Wallace said that the retailer had accumulated just under 200,000 users. And since March 2015, Unique Vintage has generated more than 2,400 orders per month that are directly tied to sharing and referral behaviors; 42% of unique website visitors have purchased after engaging with its Share and Save widget. In addition, the company has upped its repeat purchase rate by 8.5% and its new account creations by 450%. Plus, customers submit about 6,000 user-generated photos a month, and the retailer has seen a return on investment of more than 2,500%.
If there’s one thing Lear Wallace has learned from this experience, it’s not to underestimate the power of brand ambassadors.
“We have seen such powerful activity and engagement from those top loyal customers that being able to give them the tools to harness that and grow that has been just exponentially successful for us,” Lear Wallace says, “where in the past, we have taken it for granted—they’re there; they’re going to do it; they love us; they’ll continue to love us.”
But Unique Vintage isn’t done innovating yet. Lear Wallace says she wants to increase the brand’s use of user-generated content in 2016. “We want more than 50% of our products on the site to have those customer images associated with them,” she says, “which is a very lofty goal from where we are now.”
As for brands hoping to mimic Unique Vintage’s success, Lear Wallace advises marketers to make their loyalty programs interesting.
“There are a lot of brands that just think of loyalty as ‘we want to incentivize users to purchase, we want to reward them for purchasing, and they’ll just come back and buy more because we’re giving them some points,’” she says. “What we’ve learned is having those additional triggers and those additional areas of engagement and rewards keeps those users coming back and harnesses their brand evangelism—and gets other people to come, as well… You want to keep them interested.”
*Updated: Unique Vintage sends its customers a welcome series, not just a single welcome email as previously noted.