In this current day and age, with all of the monumental changes and difficulties the retail sector has faced in the last few years, industry leaders are finding it more difficult than ever to keep up with the quickly evolving wants and needs of consumers. It is here that incentivised retail can still play a part and help build customer loyalty at a time when it has never been more valuable.

At its core, an incentive program is a simple concept, it is a formal scheme used to promote or encourage specific actions or behaviour by a specific group of people during a defined period of time. Incentive programs are used particularly in business management to attract and retain customers, something which is particularly vital following the lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Today, most major retail stores can no longer survive as a siloed shopping experience. The more successful retailers are no longer trying to fend off online shopping as a threat to existence, but rather embracing online as the lifeblood that will nourish retail’s continued relevance.
In an article by Kirk Donlan, Content Marketing Manager at Emarsys entitled ‘Top Five Customer Incentive Ideas’ he explains that the idea of offering invectives to entice customers is not a new concept. Back in 1881, businessman William Wrigley, Jr. drove sales of baking powder by including two packs of chewing gum with each unit sold. Sure, customers enjoyed the product, but they also loved the extra bonus that came with it. (Little did Wrigley Jr. know this incentive would become more popular than the product itself, thus giving birth to the Wrigley Gum empire).
Over the years incentives have become expected, so they need to have more meaning and offer more to the customers. Donlan suggests the following tips to make your incentive worth customer’s time and loyalty:
Upgrade with purchase – This particular technique is more often associated with companies who sell tiered versions of a product, such as airlines or software companies. Offering an upgrade with purchase is a nice incentive because it gives customers peace of mind – if during the purchase they want to upgrade to a higher tier, they can do so for a cost without having to purchase an entirely new product. However, customers still have to make their initial purchase without any concession from the brand. This means it’s less value-additive.
Free samples – Always a crowd pleaser, many companies offer free samples. For example, retail companies can offer out free samples to interested customers in-store. It remains a great way to incentivise customers and a quick way to get customers names and emails. The downside: some customers are happy to simply enjoy the freebies without ever making a purchase. There’s no guarantee that they’ll come back to buy.
Bulk discounts – These can incentivise customers to buy in larger quantities and are effective at driving volume. They are often associated with the ‘six-bottle’ purchase or the ‘case’ purchase. It is an incentive worth considering unless the product in question is a high-priced item that customers are less inclined to buy in bulk.

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Free gift wrapping – Albeit a simple incentive, this extra level of service can win a lot of customers. Many customers are busy and overwhelmed at the best of times so companies who offer this are showing awareness of their consumers and offering to help them.
Free shipping – A common point of friction between customers and making an online purchase is shipping. Not only do people purchasing online have to wait for their product to arrive, they are also charged for the privilege! Free shipping is the holy grail of e-commerce incentives. A whopping 96 per cent of online shoppers polled by lab42.com are more likely to shop on a website that offers free shipping. That means nearly every shopper can be incentivised by free shipping. Offering to ship customers their purchases at no charge is a great incentive, particularly in the world of retail today.

Retail has definitely changed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in particular, some processes that were already in the works have most definitely been sped up to help companies survive this crisis. Retailers today need to think of the in-person shopping experience as one piece of a larger omni-channel customer experience.
They need to build their sales model with the understanding that consumers will use their smartphones while shopping in their stores.
Incentives are and will remain quite powerful because they make customers themselves feel special. To them, a great incentive is more than just a sales promotion. It’s an indicator that you genuinely value their business and patronage, again something else that has more value than ever as we begin to enter a post-coronavirus retail world.