As 2019 winds down, I’m getting more questions about what’s going to be new and next in loyalty in the coming year.

Most marketers understand that earning loyalty is bigger than rewards programs and incentives, that it’s important to treat different customers differently. And they agree that a loyalty program should deliver the best content, offers, and experience that a brand has to offer.

But making the shift from loyalty as a standalone marketing practice to something that is tightly integrated with the customer experience is hard. And companies struggle with many of the fundamentals that make it possible — such as understanding customer interactions across channels, delivering a consistent experience, and collaborating with internal groups like eCommerce and customer service.

Enter Nike.

Membership in NikePlus, which it bills as “the very best of Nike,” is at the center of Nike’s direct-to-customer growth strategy. The 170M members of the program get benefits for both shopping and using its family of apps. There are three things that set Nike’s approach apart:

  1. Loyalty has a higher calling than a promotional fire hose. Nike prioritizes loyalty and membership as part of the company’s corporate strategy for growth. In his 2019 fiscal year letter to shareholders, Mark Parker referenced members and membership six times and attributed 35% growth in digital revenue to the expansion of the program.
  2. Exclusivity, access, and innovation are front and center. NikePlus members get access to shopping perks like free shipping, but the emphasis and focus is on access and exclusives rather than percent off. It consistently tests new kinds of partnerships and benefits to keep the program fresh and exciting. For example, in November it introduced “Member Days,” where program members could unlock a new benefit — such as a free gift with purchase, rewards for doing a workout with Nike’s training apps, or first access to the new Kyrie 6 shoe — each day for six days.
  3. Member insights impact omnichannel experiences. The member experience and exclusive offers aren’t just limited to mobile, web, and email. Nike brings membership to life in its stores as well, with express checkout, special store hours for members, and a members-only floor at its flagship store in NYC. It’s also using member data to enhance the value it delivers for members through hyper-localized store formats: At the end of October, Nike expanded its Nike Live concept with two new stores in Long Beach, California and Tokyo.

Nike may be setting a new standard for loyalty, but the uptick in retail loyalty program revamps I’ve seen in the past 18 months tells me that other retailers are paying attention and investing in program evolution, too. Stay tuned — you’ll be hearing more from us about retail loyalty in 2020.