Millennials and Loyalty Programs

Posted by Kayla Adams-Kalman on Mon, Jan 13, 2020 @ 04:07 PM


Ah, the millennial generation. They're not just about avocado toast and craft beer. Pew Research tells us those 75 million plus American millennials, ages 21 to 35, have become the world's most powerful consumers, having surpassed baby boomers in buying power in 2019. A recent UBS survey revealed that millennials are wielding $24 trillion in buying power right now.

That's why the phrase "Industries Millennials are Killing" is trending. Their preferences, coupled with their buying power, are vastly changing the marketplace. What has this generation killed? Low-end pet food, because they're spending more for high-quality grub for Fido. Dairy (veganism is huge). Napkins (they prefer paper towels). Home ownership (hefty student loan debt is to blame). Golf (too stodgy). Cable TV (rabbit ears and Netflix do just fine, thanks).

One industry they're not killing? C-stores. Just the opposite. According to Convenience Store News, millennials account for one-third of all C-store traffic.

But thinking of millennials as simply younger versions of your boomer customers is a mistake, and a big one. Millennials' habits are different, their motivations and sensibilities are different, and what they respond to in terms of marketing is vastly different.

One example: Older generations tended to stop at C-stores to fill up their cars with gas. Millennials are frequenting C-stores for much more than fuel. (Hello, electric cars.) Millennials are more likely to stop and buy items — particularly food items — at convenience stores than any other age group. In part because of this trend, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is adamant that the future of convenience stores is food sales, not gas.

What do millennials find appealing about C-stores? Here are a few thoughts:

  • For food and beverage stops, convenience stores are almost twice as important to millennials — consumers ages 18 to 34 — as fast-casual restaurants, says Harry Balzer, chief food industry analyst at NPD Group.
  • Deals and food service are one of the main reasons that savvy millennials are flocking to C-stores as one of their preferred retail spaces for buying food and drinks.
  • With an average visit lasting only 3 to 4 minutes, C-stores offer millennials the “get in and get out” experience they tend to prefer. In fact, for food and beverages, USA Today reports that convenience stores are almost twice as important to millennials as fast-casual restaurants.
  • Targeted mobile offers can further increase that level of convenience by providing easily accessible promotions in an app, text or mobile web page, capable of being delivered in real time to a consumer while they are in the store.

Catering to their buying habits is a big factor in creating loyalty. Let's look a little deeper.

Millennials Shop Quickly, Impulsively and Socially

Millennials don't like to browse aimlessly for long periods of time. They don't make lists and get organized about what they want before leaving the house. And they like the social aspect of shopping. Breaking that down:


  • Millennial shopping trips are primarily for running errands.
  • 1 out of every 3 trips lasts 5 minutes or less.


  • 74% of their trips included no preparation. They're not making lists.
  • 63% are more likely to buy a meal or a snack to eat right away.
  • 35% of their trips included a non-alcoholic, ready-to-drink beverage.


  • 13.3 million millennials are interested in social interaction around shopping.
  • 5.8 million use websites, smartphones and social media to facilitate and talk about their shopping.

So, what does this mean for retailers? According to a study conducted by Coca-Cola, retail operators should:

  • Market to millennials in the moment
  • Deliver differentiated experiences
  • Cater to their impulsiveness
  • Be on trend and on budget

One powerful way to accomplish all of that is through your loyalty program.

Millennials and Loyalty

Millennials have grown up during a time of incredibly rapid changes in technology. They are the first generation of technology natives, meaning, they can't remember a time without smartphones, iPads and other devices. Today, the speed of information exchange has never been faster ... until tomorrow, when it will be. Remember the screech of a dial-up internet connection and waiting forever for it to load? Millennials don't. Their expectations are for instant connection, just-in-time offers, and a digital experience. Far from checking out of real life by being on their phones constantly checking different social media platforms, millennials use that digital platform to connect and be part of a community. Part of that connection can be with you.

Your loyalty program can use these characteristics of millennial behavior to your advantage. They want to engage with brands that reflect their values and understand them.

Here are a few truths about millennials and their behaviors, and what you can do to capitalize on it.

Millennials are Social

This may come as no surprise, but as the first generation that had social media as children and young adults, millennials frequently use various social networks. They grew up being constantly connected and as a result, they value relationships and connections, not only with people, but also with brands. They want to feel a connection with the companies they buy from. In fact, according to the AMA, 1 in 5 millennials believe social networks will eventually become the hub for all of their financial information.

What You Can Do

If you want millennials to become an active part of your loyal customer base, explore the options that are available via social media such as:

  • LinkedIn is great for publishing content, contributing to group discussions, building brand awareness and establishing credibility, which is important to millennials.

  • Twitter allows you to share images, videos and timely information and content.

  • Facebook allows you to engage with your audience through posts about offers, discounts and coupons. It allows for a conversation and to build a relationship helping them feel more connected to your brand.

Whatever platforms you choose, keep your posts engaging, relevant and targeted to them. Take advantage of mobile as well as social media as tools to reach millennials.

Millennials Use Mobile

In addition to growing up in a socially connected world, millennials were also raised in a mobile world and information has always been right at their fingertips.

Millennials have been wired to seek information. When they have a question, they look to Google or Siri for answers. These digital natives are used to having this type of technology. It has always been there for the vast majority of their lives.

What You Can Do

Be sure your website is mobile friendly. According to the American Marketing Association (AMA), texts have an open/read rate of 90% and 70% of mobile searches lead to action on websites within one hour. You could be missing out on a huge opportunity if your website is not optimized for mobile users, particularly millennials. And, remember, it’s not just about your website. It’s also critically important that you use an omnichannel marketing approach for all of your digital content.

Creating the Right Loyalty Program for Millennials

These are some rules of the road for appealing to millennials with your loyalty program.

Keep the sign up simple. Millennials don’t want to go through many steps, or jump through too many hoops, to sign up for your loyalty program. They want instant gratification. Asking a millennial to fill out a form to become a member of your rewards program is far less appealing than displaying a digital platform that allows them to simply login on their phones and instantly begin earning rewards and sharing this experience with their friends.

Keep it simple, part 2. Including a long list of features in your mobile app that are not essential to the core purpose of the app will make it clunky and more difficult to navigate than it needs to be. Consider what goals your users are looking to complete when they access your app and leave them feeling satisfied with their experience by making it easy for them to meet those goals.

Digital is the key. Millennials live on their smartphones. It's simply not practical to not have a digital app for your rewards program. According to Excentus, “Nearly 40% of digital native millennials rely on mobile apps to track and redeem their rewards.”

Quick rewards are vital. Have you ever just stopped using a loyalty program? If so, why? We'll bet it's because you had to work too hard and wait too long for any rewards to materialize, and when they did, they weren't worth the effort. For millennials, this is the death knell for engagement with loyalty programs. Millennials want to feel like they are quickly reaping the benefits of a rewards program. But don't just take our word for it. According to Software Advice, millennials are most incentivized to join a loyalty program based on how quickly rewards accrue (51%) and the variety of rewards available (38%). Understanding that is one of the most powerful ways to turn millennials into loyal customers. You can feed their instant gratification needs in multiple ways, such as building up points with each purchase, earning awards at different levels of purchase, member-specific promotions, welcome and birthday offers, and surprise offers.

Make it fun. Millennials want an experience that encompasses more than simply handing over a card to be scanned. They want to participate. According to Rare, fun is an important loyalty driver for 60% of millennials. Retail Info Systems echoes that stat by citing a COLLOQUY survey in which 34% of millennials said the word that best describes their participation in a customer rewards program is "fun." How to do that? Feature a competitive game, visible leaderboard or a self-competitive feature like earning badges. When a loyalty program crosses over into the content space that millennials tune into on their phones every day, it becomes part of their world.

Make it relevant. According to that same COLLOQUY survey, 49% of millennials dropped a loyalty program after receiving irrelevant communications. Use that all-important customer data gleaned through your loyalty program, including shopping habits, repeat purchases and favorite stores visited, to make personal, relevant offers. They want to feel like the companies they choose to give their loyalty to know who they are, can keep up with their fast-paced lives, and give them ways to connect and feel valued, all while having fun. That's what a loyalty program is all about, right?

Don't inundate them with emails or texts. We all hate that, don't we? Millennials especially don't appreciate it. When's the last time you got an email from your millennial child? How about a three-word text, or better yet, an emoji? Just being the parent of a millennial tells you that these young people put the "instant" into instant messaging. They want communication to be short, sweet, to the point and only when necessary. That means no blanket emails to all of your loyalty members with offers that apply to only one segment.

Use in-app promotions. Millennials will respond to surprise promos like BOGO or a free item with purchase.

Offer choice. Millennials like what they like, and giving them choices is the key. Choice of sign up, choice of rewards, choice of notifications.

Make it easy to navigate. If users can’t find what they’re looking for within a couple of button selections or scrolls, they are likely to close the app and move on to something else. Eventually, they’ll delete the app entirely to make room for other apps that are easy to use.

Make it fast. Great apps generally take less than five seconds to load and rarely freeze. Ensuring your app performs well will provide a consistently positive experience.

Interested in learning more about millennials? Download our free whitepaper, Millennials: The Powerhouse Generation.

Tags: Loyalty Marketing, Convenience Stores, Rewards Program, convenience store rewards, Simpliconnect