LaBonne's Shows Amore to Loyal Shoppers

WOODBURY, CONN. Sales were up 139% at LaBonne's Markets during a recent Italian Night held to reward the store's most loyal shoppers. More than 350 people attended the event. They were selected using the Shopper Insight Dashboard, from Market Basket Rewards, Troy, Mich. The grocery chain's loyalty program with Market Basket Rewards was launched last October with the goal of targeting specific shoppers

WOODBURY, CONN. — Sales were up 139% at LaBonne's Markets during a recent Italian Night held to reward the store's most loyal shoppers.

More than 350 people attended the event. They were selected using the Shopper Insight Dashboard, from Market Basket Rewards, Troy, Mich. The grocery chain's loyalty program with Market Basket Rewards was launched last October with the goal of targeting specific shoppers for events such as this, and for special offers.

A second event, held last month, to celebrate the grand re-opening of the store, attracted some 200 top shoppers. LaBonne's served its fresh prepared foods and desserts, as well as products from local vendors. The goal of this event was less about sales and more of a show and tell, said Bob LaBonne Jr., president and owner of the three LaBonne's stores, all of which are in Connecticut.

“If you can do anything to make the customer feel you appreciate them and their business, I think they show gratitude,” explained LaBonne. “There are too many choices for consumers these days, so if you can build a bond you can recreate some of that loyalty that has gone because of the world being so price-driven.”

Programs like this are to be commended, said Jim Hertel, managing partner with Willard Bishop consulting firm, Barrington, Ill.

“There are very few people who are using loyalty cards to build loyalty, but they use it to build discounts or cents off,” he said. “So to see somebody who's actually building a program and using it as a way to reward shoppers in a non-price way, that's a real investment in creativity and I think it's to be applauded.”

The key is to have a rewards program where people are actually going to get something, said Adam Napell, vice president and co-owner of Market Basket Rewards. “The idea is to start to recognize customers as individuals and communicate to them with things that are relevant.”

Held on a Thursday night, which is typically the slowest night of the week, the Italian event clocked three times the usual traffic in the store and was made festive with music and employees dressed as servers carrying around trays of product samples. Discounted prices were offered on Italian items. LaBonne was also strolling through the store to meet shoppers.

On this occasion, LaBonne wanted to invite shoppers who in the past two months had purchased an Italian food item in any of the chain's stores, as well the top 200 shoppers at each store by spend.

Market Basket Rewards designed an invitation and emailed a personalized version to each selected customer, pointing out that it was a private invitation.

Events like this will be held four to six times per year “to keep the rewards program dynamic,” explained Napell. “We want LaBonne's shoppers to always wonder what is going to be happening now.”

The next event will be held May 20 with a backyard BBQ theme. After that, there's an event for the chain's 48th anniversary in August and later, a fall harvest evening.

“Independent retailers have to emphasize their differences because they're not going to win the price war,” said Napell.

The idea is to make the customers work for invitations such as these, he added, “to dangle the carrot in front of them and all they have to do is to shop here.”