Loyal Buyers Think They Have the Edge

Loyal customers often believe they deserve—and will receive—an advantage.
WHEN RETAILERS HOLD promotional contests, the rules often assure those who register that “no purchase is necessary to win.” But loyal customers might not believe that message applies to them, say researchers from The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business in Columbus and Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management in Nashville, Tennessee. In fact, loyal customers often believe they deserve—and will receive—an advantage.
 
“This is driven by people’s sense of deservingness,” says Rebecca Walker Reczek, an associate professor of marketing at Fisher College. “Devoted customers think they are luckier than others when it comes to these contests with random outcomes. It is a ‘lucky loyalty’ effect.”
 
Reczek conducted several studies with co-authors Kelly Haws, associate professor of management at the Owen School, and Christopher Summers, a doctoral candidate at Fisher. In one, 197 college students were asked to imagine checking into a hotel, some as members of the hotel’s loyalty club and others as first-time customers. All were told their names would be included in a random drawing for a gift basket. When asked to rate their likelihood of winning, the loyalty club members believed they were more likely to win than did first-time guests. The first group also was more likely to agree with the statement “I have earned special treatment from this hotel.”
 
The researchers also conducted a real-world experiment involving 97 participants in Mechanical Turk, a division of Amazon.com that allows people to offer services to businesses. Participants were asked to rate how much effort they put into their work at Mechanical Turk; they also were told that they would be entered into a random drawing to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Those who rated their effort highest believed they were more likely to win the gift card.
 
These results send a message to managers, say the authors. Devoted customers have high expectations of special treatment, even in contexts where they shouldn’t, she said. 
 
“Lucky Loyalty: The Effect of Consumer Effort on Predictions of Randomly-Determined Marketing Outcomes” appeared in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.