From Stamp Books to App Rewards: The Evolution of Customer Loyalty Programs in Retail

Remember when buying a kilo of rice or a bottle of ketchup used to give you stamps that you could later trade for a pressure cooker or a set of ceramic mugs? If you’re nodding your head in nostalgia, you’re no stranger to the allure of customer loyalty programs. Fast forward to 2023, and the landscape has shifted dramatically, but the basic premise remains the same—rewarding you for choosing them over and over again.

Loyalty Programs: From Then to Now

At the dawn of the modern retail era in India, shopkeepers had a simple mantra—‘Know thy customer’. They would know your favourite brand of toothpaste or which biscuits your children loved. This familiarity was their loyalty program. You’d return because you valued the personalized service.

However, as the Indian economy opened up in the 90s, competition in the retail sector exploded. Supermarkets and department stores started mushrooming, offering more choices and convenience. The old mantra was no longer enough. Thus was born the first generation of organized customer loyalty programs.

Remember those stamp books from your neighbourhood grocery store? They worked on the simple idea that if customers were incentivized to buy more, they would. Collect enough stamps, and you could redeem them for a gift. You felt special, and the store enjoyed your continued patronage. It was a win-win situation.

Enter the Digital Era

However, with the rise of e-commerce and online shopping, the retail industry had to rethink their loyalty programs. Physical stamp books and tokens gave way to points accumulated on apps and websites. Amazon Prime, Flipkart Plus, and BigBasket BB Star led this wave in India.

The evolution didn't stop there. Modern loyalty programs began incorporating personalized experiences based on customer data. They started targeting individual needs and preferences, making each customer feel like the program was designed just for them.

Subscription-based Loyalty Programs

Recently, there’s been another twist in the tale. Retailers have realised that in this era of abundant choices, securing a customer's commitment upfront could be a game-changer. So, many have switched to subscription-based loyalty programs.

Customers now pay an annual fee in return for a host of benefits like exclusive discounts, early access to sales, free home deliveries, and cashbacks. This model not only ensures customer retention but also brings in a steady stream of revenue for the retailer.

Challenges and the Road Ahead

Despite their ubiquity, customer loyalty programs aren’t without their challenges. Many consumers sign up but rarely engage, mostly due to program complexity or a lack of perceived value. Furthermore, with data privacy concerns on the rise, customers are increasingly hesitant to share personal information.

To overcome these hurdles, retailers need to focus on creating truly customer-centric programs. This could mean offering more personalized and relevant rewards, simplifying program mechanics, or guaranteeing data security.


The journey of customer loyalty programs has been a fascinating one. From humble stamp books to high-tech, data-driven programs, they have always been about one thing—enticing the customer to stay. As we move forward, they will continue to evolve, reflecting the changing retail landscape and consumer behaviour.

So, the next time you scan a QR code at the supermarket or click on an app to check your reward points, remember you are a part of this evolution, contributing to the shaping of future loyalty programs.

Enjoyed this trip down memory lane with a peek into the future of customer loyalty programs? Why not share it with your friends and get them in on the conversation too? Let’s see who has the most intriguing story to tell about their experiences with loyalty programs. Happy shopping and happier rewards collecting!

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