Blog: reward stores
Many years ago, not too long after e-commerce took off, someone built the first online company store. A simple affair, it offered a few shirts, hats and mugs branded with the company’s logo. The goods were ordered in quantity and kept in a warehouse somewhere, then fulfilled one by one as the orders came in. It was a quaint, uncomplicated time.
Soon, the merchandise ideas expanded, and the distributors providing the stores realized that it might not make sense to keep everything in stock; after all, someone had to pay for all that stuff sitting in the warehouse, and it didn’t always sell, even with a captive audience. Thus the drop-ship company store was born, with lower quantities and on-demand decoration. High-demand items could still be held in inventory and shipped out immediately. Everyone was happy.
Along the way, all sorts of other interesting things happened. Different ways of paying were introduced, along with lots of corporate-friendly features like departmental budgets and approval routing. If John wanted to buy twenty shirts for the trade show, he had to have the money in his budget, and Julie, his boss, had to approve it.
At some point, we packed just about all the technology that we could into company stores, but the basic concept hasn’t really changed much – you’re buying a limited set of branded goods, either because you work for a company or because you’re a fan. Endless bells and whistles can be added to this process, but ultimately, is there anything else to it?
Well, yes. In fact, having watched all this occur over fifteen years in the business, I can tell you that there are some fundamental changes to the company store model that you should keep in mind if you sell and manage these programs. Best to stay ahead of the curve, right? Here are some of the changes we’re seeing in the world of company store programs:
They’re Becoming Multipurpose
Company stores are rapidly becoming jacks-of-many-trades; from handling reward programs (more on that in a minute) and marketing collateral to incentive products, a company store may need to do more than just serve up a standard platter of promotional items to justify its existence.
Company stores often become “branding hubs” for many corporations, a place where anything company-related can be purchased or fulfilled. Be prepared to deal with products you may not be familiar with, like custom-printed business cards or postcards. Many company stores offer plug-ins or other tools to handle these processes.
They’re Learning to Talk (more)
For many larger corporations, the “punch-out” company store has become mandatory. What does that mean? Big companies like to manage all their purchases through procurement systems like Ariba or Coupa. So when someone in the marketing department goes to buy a carton of paper, a new laser printer or a box of custom t-shirts, they have to use this software or web site. The procurement system serves up a list of approved vendors and handles the purchasing approval, invoicing and other details of the transaction.
In order to make your company store work with Huge Mega-Corporation Inc., you’ll need a company store platform that is compatible with these systems. Look for “punch-out” compatibility or compatibility with the specific system that the company uses. You’ll see this on the RFQ or RFP that the company issues.
If your big client isn’t using one of these now, you might not want to rest easy; these systems are growing in popularity, and there’s a good chance that a major corporation will implement a procurement system sooner or later. Stay in the loop with your contacts there and be prepared to offer a compatible solution.
They’re Expanding their Reach
By far the biggest growth we’ve seen in company store-style programs in the last couple years is the “performance” program. These are similar to incentive and rewards programs that you already know well, like your credit card reward program or airline awards.
The primary difference is that these are often purpose-built for specific needs. Safety award programs have been around for years, and these continue to be popular uses for company store platforms. But many companies are crafting programs for specific purposes and building their own metrics; a healthcare company may have specific goals, such as assisting other employees, that they offer rewards for. There is no limit to the measurable metrics that can fuel a reward program.
Often, these programs offer a mix of branded and incentive products. At the lower tiers, you might get a hat or a nice travel mug for your performance. At the higher levels, once you’re collected a lot of points (or chips, or dollars, or whatever you’d like to call them) you could get a flat screen TV or a vacation to the Bahamas.
It’s important to note that more and more of these programs are using the technology of the store itself to handle all the moving parts. In other words, years ago you might have handed out printed certificates for a good safety record or assisting someone else. Increasingly, the issuing of awards and the redemption process is all handled online, through email and online stores.
When you have a client whose company store program has grown stale, it’s worth pitching these types of programs to them. Because the results are measurable (e.g. less accidents; better reported employee satisfaction), these programs offer something that goes far beyond the basic branding reinforcement that the traditional company store provides. They satisfy more departments, as the human resources folks and the bean counters love them too.
They Will Always Need your Creativity
We see company stores go away sometimes simply because the distributor never got past the “this is just a place for people to place orders” mentality. While there are certainly many company stores that can happily sit and fulfill products for a healthy demand, others require some creativity. Many (if not most) of your clients are not merchandisers; that’s your job. You need to stay abreast of interesting new products and pitch them regularly.
Just because a company store starts as a quaint selection of a dozen products doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. If you see traffic declining or other warning signs (product activity reports are a great way to get a better understanding of what’s going on), start talking to your client about options for expanding or changing the focus of the program. You’ve got the relationship and the store is there. The solution may not be the same one you sold them a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean it (and you) can’t still be the solution.
A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.