19 Creative Customer Loyalty Program Ideas For Small Businesses

Fostering customer loyalty is paramount for businesses of any size. However, achieving it can be especially crucial—and challenging—for small businesses that typically lack the resources and brand recognition of a larger enterprise.

One way to encourage repeat business is to create a customer loyalty program, but leaders may not have a clear idea of where to start nor what it may cost. Luckily, there are several creative ideas that any company can implement on a budget. Below, 19 Forbes Business Council members share attention-grabbing customer loyalty program ideas to help small businesses strengthen relationships and thrive in today’s marketplace without breaking the bank.

1. Exclusive Events

Regardless of size, businesses can build customer loyalty by hosting interesting exclusive events. For example, a local bakery could offer monthly baking classes for loyal customers. These events provide a unique and personalized experience, making customers feel valued and appreciated. They also create a sense of community among customers who share similar interests. – Stephen Sokoler, Journey

2. Personalized Touchpoints

I think nowadays everyone is so wrapped up with referral programs and high conversion rates that they miss the opportunity to create a customer touchpoint that genuinely just connects with their clients. During my onboarding and offboarding experience, I infuse both processes with personal moments such as handwritten notes, sending flowers on their birthday or gifting them a book through Amazon they might like. – Ashley Deland, Maison De Land

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3. Upgrade Subscription Programs

Consider leveraging a product or even a service upgrade subscription program offered through fixed installment payments. From consumer electronics to kitchenware, any small business that sells a product or service that will need to be replaced or upgraded, can guarantee ongoing loyalty with this type of simple yet customized program offered at the point of sale. – Christine Roberts, Citizens

4. Tailored Experiences

In the past decade, digital platforms have revolutionized the loyalty industry, leading to new, measurable growth. The core value of these programs remains in recognizing healthy customer behavior with personalized experiences. Regardless of business size—whether it’s Fortune 100 companies personalizing emails or SMBs greeting regulars by name—fostering a culture of customer recognition is at the core. – Matt Joanou, Stakeholder Labs

5. Customized Perks Based On Data

Be personal. Most loyalty programs are transactional, so small businesses have a huge opportunity to offer something truly impactful simply because they know their customers. If you offer perks, ensure they’re customized to their interests. If you offer points, ensure they can go to an establishment they frequent. Getting personal and using data for good goes a long way in retention and engagement. – David Metz, Prizeout

6. Social Cause Partnerships

Turn your customers into social justice champions. Find a cause that resonates, involve customers and be sure to show them their impact. For example, we’re partners with The Bucket Ministry where we donate part of our sales and actively document our journey of helping the people of Kibera, Kenya access clean water. Lead with gratitude, and bring your customers along. – Sean Shea, ViB

7. Gamification

Creating a score or using some form of gamification is always a great choice. Make it fun for the customer by awarding them points or “badges” for reaching certain milestones with your business. Having an exclusive customer tier or group/club for your best customers is a powerful way of making your best customers feel special. – Matt Gubba, BizBritain

8. Return Rewards

Returns are a huge burden for many brands, and they also put a terrible strain on the environment. Brands should consider rewarding their customers for returning items in the best possible ways. For example, if a brand offers a package-free and label-free return option, customers can be rewarded with loyalty points for using it. This will reduce mail-in returns and the company’s carbon impact. – Sylvia Ng, ReturnBear

9. Tiered Benefits

Create a system to honor customers for their patronage by providing tiers with public recognition and benefits, including early access to sales, exclusive products and more. Tiers of customer tenure allow customer loyalty to function similarly to sponsorship of an event. For example, sponsors who contribute more can be recognized with bronze, silver and gold tiers and given access to different benefits. – Amber Nigam, basys.ai

10. Points Toward Products And Social Causes

For every purchase, customers earn points that can either be redeemed for products or donated to a social cause. This adds a philanthropic angle, appealing to socially conscious consumers. Track the percentage of points redeemed for donations vs. products, and measure any increase in customer engagement or brand sentiment. – Gleb Tsipursky, Disaster Avoidance Experts

11. A VIP Club

One creative customer loyalty program idea for a small business is to create a VIP club that offers exclusive benefits. This can include early access to new products, members-only discounts and personalized recommendations based on past purchases. – Jay Sen, JV Capital LLC

12. Personal ‘Delights’

I like thinking about it as a “delight” program. Find out a little bit about your new customers when they start with you—favorite foods, restaurants, hobbies, etc.—and have that information stored in your customer relationship management system. On a customer’s anniversary or birthday, instead of sending them something generic, send them something personal. They’ll be surprised and more likely to talk about it. – Jessica Scanlon, Hot Dog Marketing

13. Resell Programs

Personally, the most effective customer loyalty program is the customer reseller program. Under this program, when a customer achieves a certain loyalty level with our company, they are offered a reseller opportunity. This allows them to sell our product, earn a share of the revenue and generate additional income. This also serves as a way to promote our product. – Bhaskar Ahuja, Originscale Corp

14. Knowledge Exchange Programs

For a small business, consider a knowledge exchange program. Customers earn points by sharing insights or feedback on products, which can be redeemed for exclusive experiences or discounts. This not only fosters loyalty, but also provides valuable insights for business growth. – Ranjeet Mudholkar, Next League Executive Board LLC

15. Referral Programs

Implementing a customer-to-prospect referral system for products and services is the least expensive program that even small and medium-sized businesses can adopt. Customers become your best promotional partners because they understand your products and services the most. In addition, if you combine the program with a word-of-mouth strategy that utilizes social media, you can further improve customer loyalty. – Karita Takahisa, UNIFY PLATFORM AG

16. Members-Only Events

Organize special events exclusively for members of your community. This could include workshops, webinars or in-person gatherings if possible. Offer these events at a discounted rate or even for free to reward loyal customers. – Meeri Savolainen, INZMO GmbH

17. ‘Monthly Mystery’ Programs

Try a “monthly mystery” loyalty program where loyal clients are rewarded monthly to fuel anticipation and repeat visits. Offer varied rewards, including discounts, products and tiers for regulars. Use social media teasers to heighten interest and serve as a digital platform for interactivity. Partnering with local businesses can also enhance offerings. This idea both retains customers and acts as a potent marketing tool. – Mills Menser, Diamond Banc

18. Community Rewards Programs

One creative customer loyalty program idea that can be adopted by small businesses is a community rewards program. This initiative focuses on building a sense of community and fostering local partnerships. To implement this program, small businesses can collaborate with other local establishments, such as neighboring stores, coffee shops or fitness centers, to offer joint rewards or discounts to customers. – Christoph Straube, W&L AG

19. Social Media Photo Contests

Social media’s power is pivotal. It fosters community engagement and brand exposure. Initiate a photo contest, urging patrons to share images accompanied by a distinct hashtag. Those who consistently participate or generate substantial engagement can be rewarded with loyalty points or exclusive discounts. – Yasmin Walter, KMD Books

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