Today’s Must-Have Loyalty Program Rewards: 2022 Consumer & Channel Trends

Today’s Must-Have Loyalty Program Rewards: 2022 Consumer & Channel Trends

A lot of reward trends have come and gone during the past 20 years, following the lead of consumer purchasing patterns. There have been big disruptions—MP3 players, smartphones, voice assistants—but there has never been an event like the pandemic, which radically shifted people’s habits, interests and expectations. That’s why now is the time to re-evaluate your consumer and sales channel reward strategies, especially if you’re struggling to create and maintain loyalty.

Table Stakes: Loyalty Reward Must-Haves

Some tried-and-true loyalty reward strategies are so effective and so evergreen that they are still relevant in 2022. These three incentives always have an important place in your reward offerings.

Free products are essential for consumer brands, and are very effective in food, beauty, nutrition and similar frequent-purchase industries. An excellent example of this type of program is Sephora’s Beauty Insider, which lets customers pick which products they’d like for free in exchange for their points—and, in some cases, members will receive unexpected free samples just for being part of the program. Sephora is smart about using customer data, and they leverage a surprise-and-delight strategy that their customers adore.

Cash back is another popular loyalty strategy. Credit cards—both personal and small business—use it very effectively as an alternative to a traditional points program. When it comes to leveraging this reward, the classic case study is Kohl’s, which has famously used “Kohl’s Cash” instead of points to bring shoppers back; frequent offers such as “Earn $10 cash for every $50 you spend” drive a virtuous circle of repeat visits.

Birthday surprises have become a mainstay of loyalty programs. These days, felicitations are sent by everyone from dentists and insurance agents to car dealerships and restaurants. Sometimes these rewards are free products or branded merchandise, and sometimes they’re discounts or gift cards to use on the next transaction. Whichever you choose, keep the birthday reward a real surprise, so recipients only find out what it is when they receive it.

The Top Three Post-Pandemic Reward Challenges

Today’s Must-Have Loyalty Program Rewards: 2022 Consumer & Channel Trends

Now that we’ve reviewed the loyalty program essentials, let’s take a look at what’s changed in the past two years. These three challenges—of course they’re really opportunities—drive and define the most important reward trends in 2022.

  1. Supply chain delays

    There’s nothing more disappointing than redeeming points for a long-desired product, only to be told it’s backordered, with no delivery ETA in sight. A real-time catalog can eliminate these issues, but it’s hard to win loyalty with a thin merchandise offering.

    Having always-available premium rewards is especially important for channel loyalty programs this year because there will be more points to redeem. According the IRF Industry Outlook for 2022, merchandise budgets are up 30% in US and 42% in Europe. And as of this writing, halfway through Q2, program managers are already complaining that popular rewards—electronics and apparel—are scare, and participants “often have to settle for something different that their original vision.”

  2. New interests and preferences

    Since people have been spending more time at home, they’ve developed new interests and hobbies. From learning a foreign language to taking up a craft, people explored digital brands, subscription services and virtual classes. Brands such as DoorDash, Netflix and the king of them all, Amazon, created a need—or at least a perceived need—for instant gratification.

    Other digital industries have enjoyed significant growth during this time, such as online gaming; in 2021, it generated total revenue of $180.3 billion, up +1.4% over 2020. From game consoles and accessories to gift cards like Google Play, these items have earned a prominent place in your catalog.

    Subscription services also exploded during the pandemic, with 86% of consumers spending up to $200 per month on them. It turns out that people really like to have their fresh meals, pantry staples or dog food automatically delivered. These days, a gift card to a subscription service is a welcome way to try a something new or extend an existing one.

  1. In-person experiences are in demand


    A new survey from Recurly shares insights into how Americans prefer to spend their time and money in 2022. Brand loyalty lives on, the report says, and the top discretionary spending categories are in-person dining, domestic travel, and in-person entertainment and events.

    Families are taking long-delayed vacations, and they love getting dining and destination gift cards to spend along the way. Make sure fine dining catalog options are supplemented with fast casual and family friendly restaurants that appeal to this group.

    “Participants want less crowding, more open spaces, and remote areas. In The Impact of Destination Choice on Motivation, we reported that nearly two-thirds of the respondents had increased interest in an incentive travel program that included a trip to the mountains or other remote area, or an incentive trip that included a stay in a luxury hotel. Centralized locations that require shorter flight and travel times are also preferred by many.”

    —IRF, 2022 Trends Report

    Plus, travel and experiential rewards often have higher redemption values, making them great aspirational options that fuel loyalty. The point burners in your program can set their sights on Disney or an Alaskan cruise and start “saving” for a bigger reward—which means they’ll be doing business with you again and again.

Rewards & Loyalty Program Best Practices

Today’s Must-Have Loyalty Program Rewards: 2022 Consumer & Channel Trends

It’s important to have desirable rewards, but there are a few extra steps you can take to ensure your loyalty program is firing on all cylinders.

Tie the reward back to your brand. Your company has a unique personality, and you can use it to add extra value to your rewards. Take T-Mobile Tuesdays for example. With a CEO who prided himself on being a disruptor, they gave away everything from pizzas and gift cards to “ultimate getaways” and Tesla Model Ys. It was an exciting way to make the “un-carrier” brand sticky, and by all measures he was a roaring success.

Personalize and micro-target. Thanks to more and more data-driven consumer marketing, people expect the same degree of personalization from their incentive programs. It’s no longer enough to say, “Bob, redeem your points now” when you can say, “Bob, with 5730 points, you have great reward options, including a travel case to go with your new golf clubs.”

Include charitable donations. Millennials and Gen Zers are cause-minded and want their favorite brands to align with their values. Organizations that don’t embrace social and environmental change will lose favor with this immense market. Letting your loyalty members donate their points to a good cause is memorable for them, and creates a great halo effect for you.

How to Get More Bang for Your Reward Buck

Expert advice about 2022 loyalty rewards would be incomplete without a few financial considerations. After all, you want the most enticing rewards, but you can’t break the bank. But as you run the calculations, remember that you have a secret weapon: eGift cards.

Not only do eGift cards offer instant gratification for recipients, they are also among the least expensive rewards when it comes to shipping and handling. All in all, they offer you a wide array of benefits, including:

  • No supply chain issues or delays.
  • Add new digital brands without causing inventory management issues.
  • Travel, event and entertainment rewards stay on smartphones, eliminating the need to replace lost plastic gift cards.
  • Email or text delivery can be completely personalized without printing or postage costs.
  • Free shipping for your loyalty members, another program perk that’s become par for the course.

Ready to assess your consumer and sales channel reward strategies?

At Online Rewards, we specialize in custom loyalty reward catalogs. Thanks to our proprietary technologies, we can help you build a unique program catalog that helps you get more bang for your buck with the right rewards strategy. Plus, we can reach almost any country, in any currency, and in any language.

Start a conversation with one of our reward experts today.



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Online Rewards is a highly versatile and powerful incentive and loyalty marketing solutions provider.  Since its formation in 2002, Online Rewards has designed, developed, and supported global rewards and incentives programs across a variety of industries and applications.

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