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Are points in loyalty programs a relic of the past or do they still wield power?

Are points in loyalty programs a relic

In the dynamic landscape of retail, the efficacy of loyalty programs remains a subject of debate. Among the myriad components of these programs, points-based rewards have long been a cornerstone strategy for fostering customer loyalty. However, as consumer preferences evolve and competition intensifies, questions arise regarding the continued relevance of points-based systems. This article undertakes a thorough examination of the enduring significance of points-based rewards within loyalty programs, drawing on empirical research and theoretical frameworks to provide a nuanced analysis of their efficacy in contemporary retail environments.

The concept of customer loyalty has undergone significant transformation in recent years, driven by shifts in consumer behavior and advances in technology. In response, businesses have turned to loyalty programs as a means of cultivating lasting relationships with their customers. Central to these programs are the rewards offered to incentivize repeat purchases and engagement. Among the diverse array of reward structures, points-based systems have emerged as a ubiquitous strategy for businesses across industries. However, as the retail landscape evolves, the efficacy of points-based rewards has come under scrutiny. 

What does the research say?

The literature on loyalty programs encompasses a rich tapestry of empirical studies, theoretical frameworks, and practical insights. Within this landscape, the debate over the efficacy of points-based rewards has been a focal point of inquiry. Alshurideh et al. (2020) underscore the importance of aligning loyalty program design with consumer preferences and strategic objectives, emphasizing the enduring relevance of points-based systems in certain contexts. Additionally, Bombaij & Dekimpe (2019) highlight the moderating role of retailer characteristics and country-specific factors in shaping the effectiveness of loyalty programs, reaffirming the need for a nuanced understanding of the interplay between program design and environmental influences.

Key Findings and Insights

Empirical research yields several key insights into the efficacy of points-based rewards within loyalty programs. While alternative reward structures, such as tiered systems and upfront VIP benefits, have gained traction in recent years, points-based programs continue to wield significant power in influencing consumer behavior. For example, Magatef & Tomalieh (2015) find that tiered reward systems are particularly effective in driving customer retention among MENA consumers. Moreover, Gorlier & Michel (2020) highlight the role of self-expansion theory in elucidating the impact of special rewards on consumer-brand relationships, underscoring the enduring appeal of points-based rewards as a means of fostering emotional connections with brands.

​​​​​​Case study

Loyalty programs play a pivotal role in shaping consumer behavior and fostering lasting relationships between businesses and their customers. One exemplary case that illustrates the enduring effectiveness of points-based rewards is Starbucks Rewards. Launched in 2009, Starbucks Rewards has emerged as a hallmark loyalty program within the coffee industry, offering customers a tiered structure based on stars earned per purchase.

Starbucks Rewards operates on a simple yet compelling premise: with each transaction, customers accrue stars that can be redeemed for a range of rewards, including free drinks, food items, and exclusive offers. This points-based system incentivizes repeat purchases and encourages customers to engage with the Starbucks brand regularly.

Despite facing fierce competition from both traditional coffeehouses and emerging players in the market, Starbucks Rewards has maintained its status as a standout success story. With millions of active members worldwide, the program continues to attract and retain loyal customers, driving significant revenue growth for the company.

Research studies corroborate the effectiveness of Starbucks Rewards in driving customer engagement and retention. For example, Magatef & Tomalieh (2015) conducted a study on the impact of customer loyalty programs on customer retention, finding that tiered reward systems, similar to those employed by Starbucks Rewards, are particularly effective in fostering long-term relationships with customers. Moreover, Gorlier & Michel (2020) explored the role of special rewards in enriching consumer-brand relationships, highlighting the psychological mechanisms that underpin the success of loyalty programs like Starbucks Rewards. Their findings underscore the importance of self-expansion theory in elucidating how customers perceive and engage with rewards offered by loyalty programs.

In essence, the case of Starbucks Rewards serves as a compelling example of the enduring appeal and efficacy of points-based loyalty programs. By leveraging a tiered structure and offering valuable rewards, Starbucks has succeeded in cultivating a loyal customer base that consistently chooses Starbucks over its competitors. This case study underscores the significance of points-based rewards in driving customer engagement and retention, even in highly competitive markets.

Practical Implications

For businesses grappling with the question of whether to retain or revise their points-based loyalty programs, the findings offer actionable insights. While points-based rewards may be perceived as a relic of the past by some, empirical evidence suggests that they remain a potent tool for driving customer engagement and retention. Strategic considerations, such as program design, retailer characteristics, and cultural influences, should inform decisions regarding the implementation and optimization of loyalty programs. By leveraging the enduring appeal of points-based rewards while embracing innovative approaches, businesses can navigate the evolving landscape of customer loyalty with confidence and efficacy.

What does the future hold?

In conclusion, the debate over the relevance of points-based rewards within loyalty programs is multifaceted and nuanced. While alternative approaches may offer novel strategies for engaging customers, empirical evidence suggests that points-based systems retain their power to drive loyalty and enhance customer relationships. By synthesizing insights from diverse research studies and theoretical frameworks, we at Sparta Loyalty are trying to provide a comprehensive analysis of the enduring significance of points-based rewards in contemporary retail environments. As businesses strive to cultivate and retain loyal customer bases, a balanced approach that leverages both traditional and innovative elements of loyalty programs holds the key to sustained success in an ever-changing marketplace.


Alshurideh, M., Gasaymeh, A., Ahmed, G., Alzoubi, H., & Kurd, B. (2020). Loyalty program effectiveness: Theoretical reviews and practical proofs. Uncertain Supply Chain Management, 8(3), 599-612.

Bombaij, N. J. F., & Dekimpe, M. G. (2019). When do loyalty programs work? The moderating role of design, retailer-strategy, and country characteristics. International Journal of Research in Marketing.

Magatef, S. G., & Tomalieh, E. F. (2015). The Impact of Customer Loyalty Programs on Customer Retention.

Gorlier, T., & Michel, G. (2020). How special rewards in loyalty programs enrich consumer-brand relationships: The role of self-expansion.

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