Digital Marketing Redux   //   November 24, 2023

More brands are offering loyalty program members early access to holiday deals

A number of retail companies are giving their most dedicated customers first pick at their sales. 

Ahead of Black Friday, Amazon Prime members were able to sign up for invite-only deals on select products expected to sell out during Amazon’s Black Friday-Cyber Monday deals events. Meanwhile, Walmart gave Walmart+ members the perk of accessing Black Friday weekend deals three hours ahead of general customers. Other brands like Parade and Alo Yoga gave members of their free-to-join loyalty programs access to deals ahead of the general public. In some cases, reward program members got access to deep discounts nearly a month ahead of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.

The tactic has multiple benefits: it can help move inventory early, while creating urgency among the core customer base to secure early sales conversions. Not to mention, pushing customers to engage with loyalty programs has become an important way for retailers to collect first-party data. While there’s a greater push every year for retailers to offer bigger — and earlier — Black Friday discounts, offering the earliest and best discounts only to their loyalty members makes the move somewhat easier for retailers to justify.

In late October, Alo Yoga rolled out a three-day early access sale that was exclusive to its rewards members. The sale offered 30% off sitewide, and was available to free-to-join Alo Access users. According to the company, “Alo Access members get first dibs on drops and earn points on purchases that can be redeemed for special gifts.” The preview sale is just one of a few of Alo’s overall loyalty program offerings, which the company launched earlier this year. For example, members receive a first look at product drops, free two-day shipping, and other exclusive gifts. 

Footwear brand Cole Haan ran a 50% off almost-everything-event, exclusive to rewards program members, which is free to join. Site visitors were also encouraged to sign up to get access to the sale ahead of Black Friday. Underwear startup Parade also promoted an early VIP-exclusive sale roughly a week ahead of its November 17 site-wide event. According to the company, VIP members got to “take 30% off our site before everyone else.”

According to Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali, more brands are doing this because data shows that “shoppers want exclusive offerings and sales when they join a loyalty program.” According to a Forrester survey published this month, holiday shoppers rely on rewards programs to ease the financial burden of the holidays. The survey also shows that 71% of U.S. online adults say that instant discounts are a big motivator for joining loyalty programs.

Kodali pointed to Nordstrom as an example of a retailer that has embraced this tactic, offering semi-annual sales for Nordstrom card holders. “No retailer wants to have more sales than they need to,” she added. “But giving special offers to the best customers is often an effective, discreet way to generate incremental revenue and goodwill with brand loyalists.”

Kodali also noted that offering loyalty members early access to sales could help retailers better manage inventory levels throughout the holiday season, and that alerting top-spending shoppers to order their items early — while they are still in stock — is also a retention play. With so many deals going on across the web, it’s not always easy for shoppers to keep track of which items on their list are in stock throughout November and December. “You don’t want your most loyal customers to be disappointed because they can’t get the color or size or the product they want,” Kodali said.

Kelli Hobbs, vp of U.S. business development at Valuedynamx, a provider of data-driven purchase rewards, said now that Black Friday has turned in Black November, retailers have to give customers a big reason to shop early.

Hobbs pointed to Valuedynamx data that shows in 2022, shoppers increased their reward program spending by 22% compared to 2021. As of the end of October, that figure has already hit a 20% increase compared to last year. 

Then there is the opportunity for retailers to gather more first-party data in exchange for exclusive deals. “We’re seeing through data that consumers are increasingly getting exclusive offers in exchange for their number or email,” Hobbs explained. For instance, she said, “a company we’re working with offers a deal in which you spend a certain amount and sign up for the rewards program to receive an extra 500 rewards points.”  

The members-only deals trend, Hobbs said, is expected to continue “guide the marketing messaging” especially as customers look to stretch their dollars in this economy. “The rewards members can burn their existing points while they earn new points on their purchases,” Hobbs said.