More than a loyalty card: Global inspiration

As UK retail societies seek to modernise their membership offers, what can be learned from overseas?

Digital innovation: Denmark

Coop Denmark operates over 1,200 stores across the retail chains Kvickly, SuperBrugsen, Dagli’Brugsen, 365discount, Shopping and the subsidiaries fakta and Irma supermarkets. It is Denmark’s second-largest retailer of consumer goods and has over 1.9 million members.

Membership of Coop Denmark costs a refundable one-off fee of DKK 200 (£23). In addition to democratic rights, such as the opportunity to stand as one of 3,700 elected members from across the county, Coop Denmark members can access dividends in the form of bonuses, which can be used directly as payment in stores and online.

Members earn 1% in bonus on any spending beyond DKK 500 (£58) in a given month on selected purchases across Coop Denmark stores. Members can also earn 0.2% bonus when paying via the Coop Bank, which, like Coop Denmark, is a subsidiary of Coop Amba. The bonus can also be earned on purchases with selected partners outside of Coop Amba. Member only prices are offered with membership, as well as 10 personal member offers per week, which are tailored to individual shoppers’ spending habits.

All of this can be accessed via Coop Denmark’s app, provided by the co-op’s own customer loyalty platform business, Lobyco. Described as “the backbone of Coop’s digital ecosystem”, Lobyco started as part of Coop Denmark’s plan for a new membership programme, and is now offering its digital services across Europe.

The Coop Denmark app became one of the most downloaded apps in the country, with 25% of the Danish population using it, and Lobyco has reported a 50% increase in repeat custom on the app, compared to those shopping in-store.

A feature of the Coop Denmark app is its Scan and Pay system, where customers can scan their groceries as they shop and pay directly from their phone without queuing. For those who don’t want or aren’t able to use the app, there is also the option of scanning a physical membership card in-store to access member benefits.

A complex system under a common banner: Italy

Coop Italy brings together 77 retail co-ops operating across the country, developing marketing and communication, managing negotiation and purchases with suppliers and developing Coop branded products, on behalf of its ‘Associated Cooperatives’. Describing the network as “a complex system of co-operative enterprises united by the same principles, but autonomous in their daily activities,” Coop Italy’s membership offer reflects this.

Regardless of which local co-op members sign up with, they are issued a SocioCoop card, which is valid across the country. The card can be used to take part in the running of the co-op through AGMs and member committees, collect points on spending in the co-operatives, and access member deals. Overall savings for Coop Italy members amounted to €1.2bn last year, an average of EUR €200 per member, and members also have the opportunity to make returns on capital through the co-op’s Social Loan scheme.

Around six million people are part of Coop Italy’s membership system, having joined through their local retail co-op. Individual coops can set the price of membership, which is generally €25 (£22), and offer their own introductory deals such as discount vouchers or free products.

For example, Lombardy co-op, which has around 750,000 members, is offering a choice of welcome deals for new members, including five 10% discount vouchers, three free products or one €10 voucher. Alleanza co-op, which has around 2.3 million members, is currently running an introductory offer specifically targeted at students and has its own member app.

Coop Italy’s membership system appears to embody its own identity as “a set of enterprises, a movement of people, a collective subject based on a co-operative model born almost 170 years ago and even more current today”.

Serving 80% of households: Finland

In Finland, four out of five households are members of co-operative retailer S Group’s loyalty programme.

This staggering figure consists of 2.5 million members plus an extra 1.4 million family members who join via one of S Group’s 19 regional co-operatives, and benefit from a national scheme that is managed by S Group’s central support co-operative, SOK.

Through their regional co-op, members receive a 5% bonus on purchases in S Group stores across the whole of Finland. The bonus is paid into an account with S-Bank, also part of S Group, that is opened for all members upon joining. Members can withdraw their bonus from this account, or use an S-Bank debit or credit card to spend it, earning them a further 0.5% bonus on spending.

Vice president of Loyalty at SOK, Heini Dahlström, attributes the scheme’s success in part to having a clear value proposition for members, saying of the bonus, “customers really value that it’s not points or vouchers – it’s cash.”

Dahlström explains that SOK has recently started a national marketing campaign around the monthly bonus payday, after picking up the idea from one of the regional co-ops. Calling this a “powerful example of the power of working together”, Dahlström says that structure underlying the membership system is conducive to agile development, whereby innovation can be tested at the regional co-op level and rolled out nationally if there is appetite across the network.

Related: More than a loyalty card: UK retail co-operative membership

“If something works and other co-ops become thrilled about it, it’s good to have a way to find something that makes each of us stronger.” Dahlström highlights the importance of the regional co-ops in connecting with members to “fuel the story” of the co-operative by sharing what they are doing at a local level, within the standardised membership structure.

The regional co-ops also make the existence of this structure possible, through a fee that goes to SOK for managing the loyalty programme.

Another factor Dahlström says has been crucial to S Group’s success is consumer research. “We work with our customers quite systematically in our product development, and we have also had really good examples of using customer insight in marketing.

“The most important thing is to understand the customer and find the solutions that are good and engaging for them … then it’s easy to decide on the next development initiatives and to create a common understanding of where we want to go.”