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U.S. Customer Loyalty Program Memberships Top 3 Billion For First Time, 2015 COLLOQUY Census Shows

February 9, 2015

Specialty store loyalty memberships surpass airline frequent flyers, ranking second only to credit card programs in total members.

U.S. consumers hold 3.3 billion memberships in customer loyalty programs, the 2015 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census shows, a 26% increase over the number of memberships reported in COLLOQUY’s last census study in 2013.

COLLOQUY’s biennial report on the scope of U.S. customer rewards programs, released today, shows that American households hold memberships in 29 loyalty programs spread among the retail, financial services, travel and various other economic sectors, but are active in just 12 of them.

The corresponding household membership figures in the 2013 census were 22 and nine. Those numbers add up to a drop of two percentage points in the active membership rate, from 44% to 42%, a 4.5% decline. That marks the beginning of a trend, as the active rate declined for the first time in the 2013 report. An active member generally is defined as one who earns or redeems at least once a year.

Operated by LoyaltyOne, COLLOQUY is a leading provider of loyalty marketing research, publishing and education. The COLLOQUY Loyalty Census previously has been published in 2000, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. The latest report, The 2015 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census: Big Numbers, Big Hurdles, is available free of charge, and an accompanying webinar is scheduled March 10, 2015, at 1 p.m. EST.

The 2015 Census  shows that specialty store loyalty memberships now total 434 million, exceeding airline frequent flyer memberships (356 million) for the first time, placing second only to credit card reward programs, which account for 578 million memberships. Specialty retailers, such as Best Buy, Container Store and Radio Shack, concentrate on selling one line of goods to a particular clientele and offer narrow but deep selections in their niches.

In other retail sector highlights:

  • Drugstore memberships rose 88% to 268 million, the highest rate of growth of any census category other than restaurant programs (107%);
  • Drugstore activation rates rose to 66% in the 2015 census versus 50% in 2013, while other retail and credit card program activation rates were mostly flat;
  • Grocery program memberships declined for the second consecutive census, with memberships dropping at twice the rate in 2015 (2%) compared with 2013 (1%);
  • The rate of decline in fuel/convenience store programs slowed significantly to -3% in 2015 from -21% in 2013.

“Think of the U.S. loyalty market in terms of a crowded party where half of the party-goers are standing in the corner without mingling,” said Jeff Berry, COLLOQUY research director and census report author. “Companies and brands that understand the key touchpoints in the relationship, pay attention to how best customers respond and optimize the overall experience can turn the party up so that people will join in the fun and never want to leave.”

In other 2015 Census highlights:

  • Memberships in airline frequent flyer programs declined (-4%) for the first time and stand at 356 million. They had risen 14% in the 2013 census;
  • Credit card reward program memberships grew at a significantly slower pace, 5% in 2015 versus 28% in 2013;
  • While restaurant loyalty program memberships rose 107% to 55 million in 2015, that’s down from 171% growth in 2013.

The retail, financial and travel categories traditionally have offered two loyalty program types, proprietary and partnership. But the lines are being blurred by a group of emerging programs that were non-existent five years ago, including large e-commerce loyalty programs, daily deals, cash and discount online platforms, and mobile loyalty programs, among others, which now account for 13% of nationwide memberships.

In all, the 2015 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census delivers insights on loyalty programs in the following categories: financial services, specialty stores, airlines, hotels, drug stores, department stores, grocery, mass merchants, gaming, restaurant, car rental and cruise, fuel/convenience stores and emerging programs.

2015 Census Cover