Customer loyalty gets an inflationary seal of approval

Unfortunately, I’m just old enough to remember Green Shield Stamps, the 1970’s equivalent of a primitive but hugely successful customer loyalty program.

ack in the pre-decimal 1970s, for every 6d (sixpence) you spent you got a stamp, which you then licked and diligently pinned to a special scrapbook.

Books, once filled, could be exchanged for goods presented in specially printed catalogues. In 1972, for example, 100 books could be exchanged for a 20-inch Pye black-and-white television. If you didn’t feel like waiting the two or three years it took to fill 100 books, you might have settled for a Joy Transistor (AM only), a bargain for just 10 books. If you really couldn’t contain your excitement, maybe two books got you a carving knife or a doll for one of your kids.

The stamps were available at many petrol stations around the country, as well as some of the early supermarket groups such as H Williams and Pat Quinn’s Quinnsworth. Green Shield Stamps also maintained its own high street presence in Cork, Waterford and Dublin where it had two shops, one in Dundrum and one in Mary Street.

The distribution center was meanwhile in Clondalkin.

The mastermind behind the Green Shield stamps in Ireland and Great Britain was an English entrepreneur named Richard Tompkins. A similar idea struck him while traveling in the United States. S&H Green Stamps, a loyalty program created by retailer Sperry & Hutchinson, which at one point in the 1960s was issuing over 35 million catalogs a year.

Imitation is of course the sincerest form of flattery and Tompkins brought the idea first to Britain and later to Ireland.

Operations in the UK really took off when Jack Cohen, the founder of Tesco, signed his fledgling grocery chain into the scheme in the late 1960s. In a time of high inflation, Cohen said, sometimes customers need to be incentivized to shop. What’s more, they appreciated it.

The collaboration was a success for both parties and a hit with consumers, who loved the idea of ​​being rewarded for their loyalty.

When the UK retail market became obsessed with discounts in the late 1970s, Cohen’s successor, Ian McLaurin, decided to drop the stamps and instead use the money saved by the scheme to bring prices down.

The relationship ended in 1977.

By now, however, Tompkins had noticed that more and more people who redeemed the stamps in his shops also wanted to buy some of the goods advertised in the catalogues. Over the next two years he set about optimizing his business model and hey presto, Argos was born in 1979. The stamps were soon canceled and the rest is history.

For its part, Tesco later abandoned its ‘stack ’em up, sell ’em cheap’ strategy when Terry Leahy, the son of Irish parents from Liverpool, took over as marketing director in 1984 and later as CEO in 1997. Leahy will be overseeing a reorganization of the retailer and the launch of its customer loyalty program, better known as the Tesco Clubcard, one of the most successful loyalty programs of its kind with over 21 million members.

Most retailers – including discounters Aldi and Lidl – now have their own loyalty programs, most of which are based on terabytes of customer data and world-class digital platforms. However, with 21 million members, Tesco is still considered the gold standard in the retail world.

Though a far cry from the analog 1970s, the tenets remain the same. While people will always like a discount, once they leave the store they forget about it. And when everyone else is discounting, price, not loyalty, becomes the primary consideration.

For retailers and manufacturers, heavy discounting can also lead to an unsustainable race to the bottom, especially in inflationary times. Suppliers and producers are very often forced into a zero-sum game.

However, customer retention is more tangible and longer-term and should be rewarded. Beyond the retail sector, however, this is a lesson every business needs to learn.

The heartbreaker of a post

An Post is on track to win the warm and fluffy stakes with its new campaign that “demonstrates the importance of sending love to your nearest and dearest this Christmas”.
The campaign was created by Dublin-based agency Folk Wunderman Thompson and featured a backing track by Lyra. She is inspired by the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the character Tin Man, who begins to feel love when a neighbor sends him a Christmas card.

Global Marketers

The first marketers of the Marketing Institute’s Global Marketing Leadership Program, co-administered with Berkeley Global, University of California, have completed their six-month program.

The participants were all experienced marketers from companies such as AIB, SSE, Core, Bank of Ireland, Bord Bia, Pepsico, Ashfield Healthcare, Fresh and Genesis. The program focused on digital transformation​​​​ for global marketing leadership.​​ Customer loyalty gets an inflationary seal of approval

Fry Electronics Team

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