Reward Your Way to Wellness

How retail rewards programs can create sustainable loyalty by promoting physical and financial health

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By Jane J. Wang, CEO, Optimity 

One of the biggest disconnects in human nature is between what we should do and what we actually do. Doctors tell us to lose weight and exercise more. Financial planners tell us to save and invest more while spending less. Career counselors tell us to constantly upgrade our skills. But despite this expert advice, the overwhelming majority of people fail to take the steps today that will benefit them tomorrow. What if there was a way for retailers to bridge this gap by incentivizing people to do the things that they should be doing?

Since the dawn of modern medicine, doctors have told their patients that the key to good health is eating better and getting more exercise. It’s sound advice because we all know that many common life-threatening illnesses can be directly traced to poor dietary habits and a lack of overall fitness. The same goes for finances: spend less than you earn, budget, save, and invest wisely. Unfortunately, as easy as it is for professionals to make recommendations, follow-through is a much bigger challenge. But where doctors and accountants fail to inspire real change, retail reward programs can step up to the plate and actually change human behavior. 

According to behavioral science models, humans are often motivated by a carrot-and-stick approach to life, where the speed of receiving the reward prioritizes the action that needs to be taken — in other words, instant gratification is a far greater motivator than some distant future goal. In addition, the more enjoyable an action is, the faster it is adopted as a habit. As data-savvy Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) brands know, this approach has been widely adopted across the marketing ecosystem, including in loyalty rewards programs.

It seems that every coffee shop, hotel chain, and e-commerce brand has some form of loyalty reward, but the mere existence of a program does not guarantee that a customer will actually stay loyal to a specific company or product. That’s because most programs lack a dynamic approach to continually engage with people beyond the point of purchase. Think of it this way: most of us only think about the local sandwich shop when we are hungry for lunch, which is when we go in, order food, and get a stamp on our reward cards. What if we received some sort of offer at 10 in the morning letting us know about the special of the day or the promise of a free drink? When it comes to physical wellness and financial health, the same principle applies: savvy merchants know that loyalty comes from multiple touchpoints, not just a single interaction at the point of sale.

This presents an opportunity for retailers to build deeper connections with their consumers. It’s time to update rewards programs rooted in legacy principles to go beyond the discount or freebie and evolve it to align with what matters most to their consumers. There is a massive focus on health, wellness, and financial literacy right now, and people are investing more time and money on achieving success in these areas. Retailers can leverage this trend by helping consumers reach these goals through retail rewards programs.

According to the recent Optimity Consumer Insights Report, the top goals of surveyed North Americans include exercising more, eating healthier, supporting mental health, and seeking financial wellbeing. This is no secret, as these are the core elements that affect most peoples’ quality of life. However, many people lack the consistent action and motivation to follow through on these goals. This is where loyalty rewards can be the proverbial carrot to motivate customers. 

Retailers might ask, “what is in it for me?” What is the need to expand implemented rewards programs to cater to a trend? The simple answer is that wellness is not a temporary trend, but a lifestyle, and catering to this audience gives merchants access to consumers who invest in their wellbeing. For example, there is a high likelihood that someone who regularly runs will be interested in rewards for running shoes, fitness apparel, supplements, or hundreds of other products. Avid marathon runners could be prime targets for deals on air travel rewards or hotel discounts so they can race in other cities. And the more that retailers learn about them, the possibilities to cater directly to those desires grows exponentially. 

The consumer brands of the future are those that can expand to meet the shifting needs and desires of their customers. After such a transformational and tumultuous time in human history, people are more conscious of health, wellness and financial stability than ever before, and are spending more on the resources that will help them reach their goals. Now is the time for consumer brands to reposition their rewards programs to become “power tools” in their customers’ wellness journeys. These are the brands and retailers that will leap forward as the trusted leaders, supported by deep relationships and mutual interdependencies with their consumers. 

Jane J. Wang is the CEO of Optimity, a wellness and productivity app that helps people become their healthiest and wealthiest, by rewarding their efforts with our retail partners’ rewards programs. The Optimity Consumer Report can be downloaded here.

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