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National consumer survey examines GB loyalty schemes

National consumer survey examines GB loyalty schemes
Wednesday November 23 2011

According to the results of new research, banks/building societies continue to lead the way when it comes to feelings of customer loyalty.

Following ten years of an unprecedented lack of concern about the economy through the ‘noughties’, worry about the economy remains top of mind for Brits with half of consumers still feeling that it’s the most important issue facing Britain today.  It’s perhaps no surprise then that two key drivers of customer loyalty are familiarity with both the in-store experience and value for money, and ease, whether that’s apathy or convenience.

The research, carried out by global research company Ipsos MORI in partnership with customer interactions specialist, The Logic Group, is the third annual study into customer loyalty.   Surveying over 2,000 adults across Great Britain, this year’s survey also included, for the first time, online social listening/web sensing, and online discussion groups to explore the who, why and where of loyalty in 2011.

So, who are the winners and losers in the 2011 loyalty stakes?
For the third consecutive year, the same three sectors emerged as leaders in customer loyalty:
1. Banks/Building societies (66%) lead the way with two-thirds of the general public saying that they feel loyal to a business or organisation operating in this sector.
2. Supermarkets (60%) follow just behind, with three-in-five saying they are a loyal customer.
3. Finally, half of the general public say the same of Mobile Phone companies (52%).

Other sectors fall some way behind these leading lights.  For example, the tourism sectors are ‘niche’ players of the loyalty game, with just over one-in-ten feeling loyal to Travel/Transport/Car hire/Airlines (13%) or Hotels (11%).  Electrical/IT retailers (15%) and Sports (gyms/sports clubs) (16%) also record low levels of loyalty when we look at the population as a whole.

“Given the current climate, and consumer confidence in the economy taking a knock, it’s no surprise that customers have become wise over the past year.  Many consumers now see loyalty as transactional rather than emotional; filtering many schemes with a ‘what’s in it for me?’ approach.” said Antony Jones, CEO of customer interactions specialist The Logic Group.

“The research also shows that once people join a loyalty scheme, they are then more likely to join more and more in the same sector and beyond.  Taking supermarkets as an example, 68% of people are members of supermarket loyalty schemes with a over a third being members of two or three.  Of course as loyalty programmes have rolled out across different sectors, businesses must identify and communicate the real USPs of their scheme. The demands on loyalty schemes are clearly complex; balancing consumer expectations and motivations, against business purpose, and within a challenging economic context.  But one thing clearly emerges from this year’s research: a loyalty scheme cannot simply be set up and left to run.”

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most loyal of them all?
What makes consumers loyal to a brand or a sector is, of course very subjective, and down to personal choice, but these feelings and consequent behaviours can be grouped by a range of factors from gender and age, to social class.  The research shows great similarity between who feels loyal to the top three sectors: women for example, are more loyal than men to both Banks/Building societies (69% of women vs. 62% of men) and Supermarkets (66% of women vs. 55% of men), along with older people (aged 35+)  (vs. younger people), and main shoppers (vs. non main shoppers).  Contrast is seen in social grade however, where people in lower socio-economic groups are more likely to be loyal to supermarkets (63%) (C2DE) (vs. higher socio-economic groups 58% ABC1), while people in high to mid socio-economic groups (67%) (ABC1C2) are more likely to feel loyal to Banks/Building societies (vs. lower groups 60% DE).

Turning to the tourism sectors, older people and people in higher socio-economic groups (AB) are most likely to feel loyal here than their younger or lower socio-economic group counterparts.  Interestingly, 22% of Londoners are loyal to Travel/Transport/Car hire/Airlines, almost twice the national average (13%).

But what does this all really mean?
Feeling loyal is a difficult emotion to quantify. It’s not all about fuzzy warm feelings of sentimentality and attachment.  Today’s consumers typically feel loyal based upon one of two behaviours:
1. They have only one provider, or a small number of providers, for a particular product or service (e.g. bank or mobile phone) 
2. They make frequent visits to/use of a particular provider (e.g. a local convenience store)

Simon Atkinson, Assistant Chief Executive at Ipsos MORI comments, “Understanding your customers, their behaviours, and what they want, is key to understanding ‘true loyalty’ to your brand, product or service.  The reference points for loyalty are still banks/building societies, supermarkets and mobile phones.  But all the evidence suggests that people are loyal to organisations in these sectors for very different reasons.  

“Consumer loyalty is motivated by a range of factors including emotional brand affinity, familiarity, convenience and value for money.  This varies considerably by sector.   From personal experience, we know that we often keep ‘contracts’, written or otherwise, with companies out of general ease and convenience, rather than as a result of an emotional connection.  Where there are barriers to switch, this results in a relatively low level of churn – though the company will be vulnerable to market disruption or aggressive new entrants, something we are seeing right now in the retail banking marketplace.”

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