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Exclusive Q&A: Mastercard offers loyalty insight for holidays and 2024

Stephanie Meltzer-Paul
Stephanie Meltzer-Paul, executive VP of global loyalty for Mastercard

Mastercard sees increased focus on personalization and artificial intelligence (AI) as major developing trends in customer loyalty programs.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Stephanie Meltzer-Paul, executive VP of global loyalty for Mastercard, about what she sees as the leading topics in customer loyalty. Meltzer-Paul discussed a range of trends and technologies that will play a major role in customer loyalty during the upcoming holiday season and beyond. 

What do you think the top trend or trends in customer loyalty will be for 2024?

One is hyper personalization. The average U.S. consumer is in 17 loyalty programs. It’s a lot to keep track of. Using the data that the loyalty program is bringing you and being able to offer hyper personalization, such as through individually targeted product recommendations, to be able to drive the incrementality in your program is key. 

The second thing is bridging digital and the store, such as targeted events inside the store or in the metaverse. We are also seeing loyalty without a formal program. More brands are realizing that they can ask consumers to track them by phone number or email; they don't necessarily always need a traditional point program. 

They can have a rich set of offers, whether they're always-on or personalized, but they don't always need a traditional points program with published rules. That is also a trend we call ‘loyalty light,’ because it allows brands to, put a foot in the water with loyalty without always having to go very far in a formal program.

[Read more: Exclusive Q&A: Mastercard says personalization hinges on loyalty]

What can retailers do to help make sure that in-store and digital loyalty efforts are connected, both on the back end and from the customer perspective? 

One important step is having a clean set of set of data, so you can track loyalty program members beyond just what is happening in terms of their transactions, earning and redemption of points. Those are the most common things that are tracked as part of a loyalty program.

But retailers should also look at how often are members logging into your website? What are they browsing and looking at, are they calling or interacting with customer service, tracking between purchases in-store versus online, all those sets of data need to come through. 

This is especially important in-store, because not all customers that are part of loyalty programs will identify themselves if they're shopping in store, so it's very important that associates are trained to ask to look products up in a customer’s loyalty account. 

They have to use an identifier that's really simple to track because otherwise, you're not necessarily getting a full view of the customer and their behavior and then the customer is not necessarily always getting the value out of the program. 

It's important to make sure that you have that 360-degree omnichannel approach, and that you can read the data and also run the type of proper incentives depending on your loyalty program goals. Do you want drive more digital spend? Are you trying to drive more foot traffic in store? All those things are very important.

What kind of a role do you think AI will play in loyalty?

Right now, the trend with AI and loyalty is more behind the scenes for the marketing technology environment, particularly in areas around making it easier for the loyalty marketer to set up different types of offers. I also think AI will create more predictions about what's going to happen with your loyalty program that's more based around machine learning. 

Do you have any specific advice for using loyalty programs as part of holiday promotions?

Outside the holiday period is the time to try and test a lot of things and gain those learnings. Your holiday period is the time to actually put those things in motion in a very aggressive way. There is so much marketing going on, but it's not the time to do any sort of test and learn because you're just not going to be able to read the results as cleanly as you need to.

Take all the learnings from the other nine months out of the year and go massively aggressive, over-communicate, over-personalize as much as you can, so you can maximize your results and help cut through the noise.

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