The State of Brand Loyalty 2021: UK Consumer Survey

Our latest consumer survey reveals that brand loyalty has changed during COVID-19 — and shoppers are actually becoming more loyal.

“Brand loyalty is dead” seems to be a commonly accepted truth in the eCommerce industry these days. Literature from the past several years is rife with articles lamenting the “decay of customer loyalty,” as well as studies claiming record-low numbers of brand loyal consumers.

Many “commonly accepted truths” about the retail industry, however, were thrown into question with the onset of COVID-19. Back in March 2020, we polled consumers to see the effects of the pandemic on their shopping habits. We found that even just a few weeks into our new normal, shopper behaviour was already beginning to evolve.

Read on to discover:

  • Just how much loyalty rates have gone up from 2019 to 2020
  • What today’s shoppers are willing to do for a brand they’re loyal to
  • The specific rewards consumers want and expect from a loyalty programme
  • What your brand can do to take advantage of this massive upsurge in customer loyalty
Table of Contents
Brand loyalty is on the rise
What can brands do to nurture customer loyalty?
Top takeaways
Brand loyalty is on the rise
What can brands do to nurture customer loyalty?
Top takeaways
Chapter 01

Our latest study of 1,000 UK-based respondents across four different demographics — Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers reveals that among the many changes in shopper behaviour due to COVID-19, consumer loyalty has actually gone up year-over-year from 2019 to 2020.

Respondents are more brand loyal YoY

In 2019 and then again in 2020, we asked shoppers the same set of questions related to brand loyalty.

When asked to rate their brand loyalty compared to one year ago, the number of survey respondents who rated themselves “more” brand loyal actually went up from 23.6% in 2019 to 26.5% in 2020. Those who rated themselves as “less” loyal, meanwhile, went down from 20.0% in 2019 to 15.7% in 2020.

Respondents are loyal to a greater number of brands

The number of respondents who said they were loyal to “1 to 5 brands” went up from 2019 to 2020 (56.9% to 59.1%), as did those claiming to be loyal to “6 to 10 brands” (27.9% to 28.3%) and “11-20 brands” (5.7% to 6.9%). Those who said they weren’t loyal to any brands, meanwhile, plummeted from 7.0% to 3.7%, while those loyalty to “20+ brands” held steady at around 2%.

Respondents will go the distance for brands they love

When asked what sort of actions they would be willing to take for brands they’re loyal to, 67.3% of 2020 survey respondents said they’d join the brand’s loyalty or VIP programme, up from 58.5%% in 2019. Similarly, those willing to spend more on a brand if even cheaper existed skyrocketed from 30.8% in 2019 to 50.9% in 2020.

Brand loyalty is on the rise
Chapter 02
Brand loyalty is on the rise

Consumers are more emotionally invested in their favourite brands now than they have been in the past, viewing the shopper-brand relationship as more than just a transactional exchange. This also helps explain why, in 2020, survey respondents were over 20% more likely (compared to 2019) to spend more on a brand they’re loyal to; it’s no longer just about the money.

With around 25% of overall respondents — and 33.7% of Gen Z respondents in particular — saying they’ve become more loyal to brands to help support them during this difficult time, we can see the direct effect that COVID-19 has had on consumer loyalty and buying behaviour.

But delivering on this brand loyalty can present challenges for brands, especially for those having to adapt quickly to the digital space as physical stores are shuttered and shoppers move online.“Loyalty is becoming more important as more retailers open up both physical and digital stores,” says Wassif Aziz, Co-founder of Retention Machine. “A challenge I’ve seen these retailers face, is that they’ve found it difficult to build out a loyalty scheme that works for both online and offline shoppers. So often the most loyal customer, who will be shopping at both your eCommerce and physical store, can’t actually be captured and effectively rewarded for their loyalty.”

What can brands do to nurture customer loyalty?
Chapter 03
What can brands do to nurture customer loyalty?

Customers may be more loyal, but there’s still a great deal of competition for that loyalty. These three strategies will help your brand deepen your relationship with shoppers.

Be vocal about the causes that matter to you

When asked if they were more inclined to be loyal to a brand whose values aligned with theirs, a whopping 82.0% of respondents said yes.

Being more vocal about your brand values can play out in myriad different ways, including:

    • Creating a page on your website that features a cause, charity or value that is close to your brand’s heart. Essential oils brand Aromatherapy Associates, for example, proudly touts their B Corp Certification on a dedicated page on their site.
      • Offering important resources to help your shoppers get involved. Click on the “Activism” section on Patagonia’s website, and, based on your location, you’ll be shown grassroots environmental activist groups in your area.
        • Finding new ways to be a part of an important and ongoing dialogue. Intimately, which makes underwear for disabled folks that is both “functional” and “fashionable,” has a section on their site called “Stories By You”, where community members share stories, advice, tips, resources and more.

          “For some consumers, the disruption of recent times and the enforced move to digital has meant seeking new brands online. For others, it’s been a case of remaining loyal to their tried and tested brands during such a turbulent time,” says Elliott Jacobs, Director of Commerce Consulting at LiveArea. “And, whether trying to retain new customers or keep loyal customers happy, transparency is vital. From communication regarding supply chain ethics, sustainability, diversity, or staff welfare, to providing visibility around inventory, delivery speeds, tracking, and returns, recent events have shone light on brand perception. Transparent, trustworthy and consistent communication across every touchpoint is as vital as ever, and a key loyalty consideration moving forwards.”

          Turn your loyalty programme members into VIPs

          We asked survey respondents in 2019 and then again in 2020 what they wanted out of a loyal programme other than free shipping and discounts which, in today’s world, are considered a low bar. Two distinct responses — “early access to sales” and “early access to new products” shot up considerably from 2019 to 2020 — 38.3% to 56.0% and 28.8% to 46.0% respectively.

          The main takeaway? Your customers actually do care about more than just free shipping and discounts when it comes to your loyalty programme; for many, getting a VIP experience has become significantly more important to them since 2019.
          What does this look like in action? Body positive bra brand ThirdLove created a tiered VIP loyalty programme, “Hooked,” that is free to join, and focuses on customers’ lifetime spend, so members can still get rewarded even if they purchase infrequently, as is often the case in the lingerie industry.
          ThirdLove’s tiered VIP loyalty program, Hooked.

          As members climb the tiers, from Admirer, to Enthusiast, to Devotee, they unlock rewards like “early access to new arrivals,” “exclusive seasonal offers,” “limited edition product access,” “annual birthday gift,” and other benefits that go beyond just the transactional, focusing instead on exclusivity and the customer-brand relationship.

          “Loyalty within eCommerce has progressed, and is no longer just a ‘click and go’ addition to upsell post-purchase using a discount code as a carrot,” says Liam Quinn, Technical eCommerce Consultant at Vervaunt. “With LTV in mind, it’s much more effective for loyalty to be baked into all customer touchpoints (e.g. purchases, reviews, social engagement) and to reward loyalty with a variety of perks that aren’t just discount codes, like free shipping, gift with purchase, and priority purchase on new product lines.”

          Replicate the in-store experience onsite

          With so many stores around the country temporarily or even permanently shuttered due to COVID-19, creating an onsite experience that is as similar as possible to the one a customer might have shopping in-person is another essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping your loyal customers engaged. You can do this by displaying reviews and visual UGC prominently across your homepage, product pages, and checkout page.

          When shoppers land on organic skincare brand Green People’s website, they are greeted by an onsite gallery filled with photos from Green People’s Instagram feed, all with “buy now” options, helping to recreate the “discovery” experience that a customer might have upon walking into a store and taking in all of the products on display.

          After clicking through to a specific product, not only are they are shown customer reviews, but they are given the option to filter reviews by the topics most relevant to their concerns, such as “irritation,” “ingredients,” “fragrance” and so on, replicating the exchange they would be able to have in-store with a knowledgeable salesperson.

          Finally, as they continue through to the checkout page, they are shown personalised product recommendations based on what other customers also purchased.

          Top takeaways
          Chapter 04
          Top takeaways

          Contrary to what many in the industry hold as common knowledge, customer loyalty is actually on the rise. This change in consumer behaviour is directly attributable to the impact of COVID-19 on the retail industry:

          • 25% of overall respondents say they’ve become more loyal to brands to help support them during this difficult time.
          • 67.3% of survey respondents said they’d join the loyalty or VIP programme of a brand they’re loyal to (compared to in 58.5% 2019), while 50.9% said they’d spend more on a brand they’re loyal to even if cheaper options existed elsewhere (compared to 30.8% in 2019).
          • When asked what they wanted out of a loyalty programme, 56.0% of respondents said they wanted “early access to sales” (compared to 38.3% in 2019) and 46.0% said “early access to new products” (compared to 28.8% in 2019).

          The key to building loyalty is to ensure that your customers — both the new and existing ones — have a stellar end-to-end buying experience.

          “Customer retention should be a key focus for any brand, as retaining your customers is significantly more cost-effective than acquiring new ones,” says Holli Barrett, Head of CX at Space 48. “The cornerstone of loyalty is a customer-centric approach where you offer a great experience and build trust with your shoppers. But that’s just the beginning, you also need to ensure your customers feel valued and rewarded for their loyalty and that you leverage personalisation by creating offers you know will interest them.”

          As we head into 2021, make sure to invest in emotional over strictly transactional relationships with loyal customers to keep them engaged and to drive both retention and CLTV.


          Learn how Yotpo can help your brand nurture and engage loyal customers with reviews & ratings, visual UGC, SMS marketing, loyalty and more.

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