Skip navigation

What’s next in customer loyalty?

At Shoptalk, retailers trace the evolution of their loyalty programs and where they’re headed

While much of the digital discussion for retailers these days is focused on online shopping and delivery, customer loyalty programs are also very much part of the mix. Old-fashioned punch cards and coupons have given way to new apps and online engagement as strategies for grocery retailers to keep their customers coming back for more.

During a presentation on “The Next Generation of Loyalty” at this week’s Shoptalk event in Las Vegas, Cheryl Williams, chief information officer at Wakefern Foods, noted that a whopping 97% of sales come through customers enrolled in one of the company’s loyalty programs. Wakefern is a retail cooperative of 50 member families who independently own and operate 344 retail supermarkets under the ShopRite, Price Rite, The Fresh Grocer and Dearborn Market banners.

“We launched our first loyalty program back in 1989,” she said. “Back then it was all direct mail and coupons.” In the early 2000s, much of that was replaced by e-mail marketing and the company introduced digital coupons in 2011. “Today, over 7 million digital coupons are clipped each week,” Williams noted. In addition to making couponing available online and on mobile, the stores have installed “smart kiosks,” where in-store customers can “clip” coupons and check out other specials. The company also offers self-checkout and mobile scanning.

Still, the more things change, the more they stay the same. “One of the flagship loyalty programs in the Northeast has always been around the Thanksgiving and holiday seasons, where if you spend so much, you’ll get a free turkey,” Williams said. “That’s still a big draw.”

And loyalty cards, such as Shoprite’s PricePlus club card key fobs, are still very much in play. Free to customers who enroll, PricePlus club membership includes benefits such as instant cash discounts on hundreds of items throughout the store; Checkout Coupons; and product safety notices sent to customers in the event of a product safety recall.

Looking forward, Williams said she is “especially excited about the potential of AI, particularly with forecasting and replenishment, which adds to the whole loyalty play.”

Updating an old favorite

Remember those old punch cards you’d get at 7-Eleven stores? Each time you purchased a Slurpee or hot dog, the cashier would punch your card and you’d get a free item after six punches.

Tarang Sethia certainly remembers those. The senior director of loyalty and CRM at 7-Eleven shared some of the history of the convenience chain’s loyalty programs at Shoptalk while bringing attendees up to date on all of the newest innovations.

7Rewards — the mobile customer loyalty app that has replaced the punch card and earns users a free beverage for every six cups purchased — has expanded to enable customers to earn rewards points for hundreds of other 7‑Eleven product purchases. After extensive successful testing in Canada, the updated 7Rewards app was launched in the U.S. last November.

In addition, customers can earn 7Rewards bonus points on select items, as well as receive digital coupons. Now, customers simply scan an applicable item and the digital coupons will be immediately applied, allowing customers to get their rewards much faster. To sign up and earn points, customers can either download the app (which is available on the Apple store or Google Play), visit the 7Rewards online mobile website at or chat the 7‑Eleven bot on Messenger.

“Over 9 million users were enrolled in the original 7Rewards program encouraging 7‑Eleven to expand and enhance the program to a points program,” said Sethia. “The 7Rewards Points program gamifies the customer experience, allowing consumers to earn while purchasing.”

Among other innovations that are being tested and developed at 7-Eleven, according to Sethia, is “payment at the pump without your wallet, for gas customers, using phone scans.” In addition, 7-Eleven is testing on-demand ordering for delivery or in-store pickup at select Dallas stores with its new 7‑ElevenNOW smartphone app. 7‑ElevenNOW is expected to roll out to other U.S. locations this year. 

And the company is ambitious about getting scan-and-go up and running, Sethia said, with a good-natured shot at the Amazon Go fully automated convenience format: “Let’s see if we [7-Eleven] can scale this technology out to 10,000 stores before Amazon can build 10,000 stores,” he said, smiling at the enthusiastic audience. “Bring it on!”

TAGS: Marketing
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.