How 5 Leading B2C Brands Have Built Greater Brand Loyalty During Tough Economic Times

a customer buying from a shop

With rumors of a recession still on the horizon, inflation still high and profit margins decreasing across various industries, building brand loyalty is top of mind for many B2C companies.

After all, the benefits are too many to ignore. Building brand loyalty helps you lower your acquisition costs, increase your retention rates and earn more revenue without spending more on advertising. Plus, per recent research from eMarketer, 64% of Gen Z and 60% of millennials are loyal to brands and would pay more to shop with them. 

The Secret to Strengthening Your Brand in a Challenging Economy: Insights From Top Commerce Brands

What are some ways you can build your B2C brand and boost customer loyalty during times of economic uncertainty? We looked at the successful strategies of five B2C brand loyalty leaders to see what tactics and programs they put into place so you can get inspired with your own brand. 

Here’s what we found. 

Lessons From 5 Major B2C Companies on How To Build Loyal Followings    

1. Nike 

When it comes to brand loyalty, this $46.71B shoe and apparel supplier has been “just doing it” since 1964 — and has the steadily increasing revenue to prove it. Just what does Nike do right? Let’s explore. 

A Kick-Ass Membership Program 

screenshot of Nike membership

Nike has a robust membership program that focuses on building a community in addition to rewards. Members can join for free and take advantage of various benefits including:

  • Free shipping
  • Customizable shoes 
  • Workouts from Nike trainers 
  • Nike Experiences (events, workshops, etc.) 
  • Member-exclusive shopping (first access to new materials)
  • Tips from Nike employees on products and styling 

Nike members can conveniently use any Nike apps to know when the latest sneaker drops happen, access training sessions and more. But beyond just these features, Nike uses its membership program to build a real sense of camaraderie and belonging. That way, they feel that they are part of something bigger than just a customer loyalty program — in other words, part of a community.  

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives

Nike focuses on DEI as part of their organizational impact to improve the world. As of 2021, 43% of their global leadership positions were held by women, and 30.3% of director-level and above employees were from minority groups. 

But this DEI commitment doesn’t just focus on internal employees — they also are dedicated to working with diverse suppliers via responsible sourcing. In 2021, for instance, they spent $197M on diverse suppliers — 100% of which, as of 2021, had completed the Gender Equity Self-Diagnostic tool — and aim to have a $1B cumulative spend on diverse suppliers within the next two to three years. 

2. Dunkin’ 

Since its famous rebrand in 2019 from Dunkin’ Donuts to solely Dunkin’ to reflect its new focus as a beverage-led company, this international coffee, doughnut and QSR brand has grown at a fast and furious pace worldwide.

Besides pivoting from donuts to varied drinks and meal options like that of Starbucks or Tim Hortons and joining a new parent company (Inspire Brands) in 2020, what has made Dunkin’ so successful? 

A Robust Rewards Program 

screenshot of dunkin rewards

Dunkin’ launched an updated rewards program in October 2022 with more rewards, more convenient options to earn and use points, and a brand-new Boosted Status (a top-tier status for members who visit Dunkin’ stores 12 times per month). 

Members can take advantage of offers like:

  • Birthday bonuses.  
  • Exclusive, members-only offers.
  • Free food and drinks via saved points. 
  • A super-simple way to accrue points: 10 points per $1 spent on certain in-store purchases or via their app. 

This simplified, expanded and revamped rewards program reflects that of other successful rewards programs Inspire Brands has launched such as Jimmy John’s. It’s ridiculously easy to use and inexpensive. It also encourages customers to make in-store visits and use the app. Together, it fosters a feeling of exclusivity, which studies show drives consumer decisions. (It also offers Dunkin’ several ways to collect first-party data.)   

A Commitment to Sustainability 

Gen Z and many other customers desire sustainable products and want to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. It isn’t surprising that Dunkin’, like many B2C brands, has a dedicated commitment to sustainability. Last year, they rolled out a new Drive-To Sustainability Program where they committed to offering 100% Responsibility Sourced Coffee in their stores by 2023. Dunkin’ also donates to organizations like the Rainforest Alliance and serves 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Iced Green and Black Tea. 

3. Zappos 

This Las Vegas-based clothing online shoe and clothing retailer has become a force to be reckoned with in the ecommerce space. In 2021, for example, Zappos was ranked #6 in the top 10 online footwear stores per Statista

Here are a few reasons why Zappos has built such a loyal following since its founding in 1999.

Beyond Rewards: Say Hello to VIP 

Rather than just using the word “exclusive” in its marketing, Zappos directly reinforces exclusivity with the name of its reward program — VIP. Very Important People with Zappos (a.k.a., rewards members) can enjoy perks like:

  • 1 point is earned for every $1 spent. 
  • Free expedited shipping without minimum purchase limits.
  • Additional benefits for Amazon Prime membership (i.e., extra points). 
  • Accrued points from just logging in to your account and looking at past purchases.

This program works — Zappos’ rewards program consistently makes the top of the best customer loyalty programs.

The irony, of course, is that you don’t have to be a VIP to be considered a VIP with Zappos. Joining Zappos VIP is relatively simple — it’s free, and all you need to do is email, live chat or call Zappos to get started. But Zappos makes you feel as if you’re a VIP, and that has made all the difference.

Giving Back and Minimizing Waste

Zappos for Good program

Through its Zappos for Good programs, it demonstrates its commitment to sustainability. Meanwhile, consumers get the opportunity to give back and make a difference.

Zappos customers can:

  • Ship items such as old blue jeans, shoes and Hunter boots free of charge to be recycled or repurposed by Zappos. 
  • Donate new or gently used items to nonprofits like Soles4Souls, Spread The Word and Kids In Need Foundation. 

Customers feel good about the good they’ve done, and in turn, feel good about Zappos. It’s a brilliant marketing tactic, and it’s a win-win for its customers and the people they help.

4. Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s doesn’t rely on fancy gimmicks, cutting-edge tech or rewards programs to attract loyal customers. In fact, you can’t buy its products online — you have to go to a Trader Joe’s store to buy them. 

How has this grocery store chain brand retained its competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded territory — and reached annual revenue of $13.3B? Let’s investigate. 

Stellar Customer Service Delivered by Friendly, Knowledgeable Staff

Trader Joe’s sets itself apart by an approach that may strike many as old-fashioned, but still works. It delivers a great customer experience — so much so that people don’t mind going to their stores to shop. In fact, they like going to Trader Joe’s. It’s not a chore. Instead, with Trader Joe’s, shopping is something to look forward to.

This service isn’t driven by tech. It’s driven by people. Trader Joe’s treats employees well and compensates them well. As a result, it attracts people who want to work for them and that have a natural affinity with the brand. These employees naturally treat customers well, too. They’re warm, pleasant and helpful. And customers like the service so much that they keep coming back.

High-quality Products

Trader Joe's products

Another way that Trader Joe’s builds brand loyalty? Delivering products of value. While many consumers buy private-labeled, store-branded products in other stores primarily because of cost (read: they’re cheaper), Trader Joe’s customers buy their branded products because of their quality. Whether food, beverages, flowers or cleaning solutions, you’ll find Trader Joe’s customers raving about their products online and off. 

Customers can even weigh in on their favorite products by voting in their annual Customer Choice Awards. The winners join the Product Hall of Fame. 

5. Patagonia

Since its founding in 1973, this outdoor clothing retailer has expanded its presence across the U.S. and opened stores in 10+ countries. Beyond its profitability (it had a $209.1M annual revenue in 2022), Patagonia is also one of the leading companies in the U.S. by reputation. Here are some reasons why.

Exemplifying Sustainability From Its Business Model to Its Stores

Patagonia Action Works

Patagonia has been dedicated to saving the planet since before it was popular. The ultimate proof of their commitment to environmentalism came in September 2022, when Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard announced that he had transferred 100% of the private company ownership and stock to a nonprofit called Holdfast Collective which fights climate change and the other 2% to a trust.

“Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose,’” the founder wrote. “Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.” 

Beyond this measure, Patagonia has also:

  • Pledged 1% of its sales to nature preservation and restoration since 1985.
  • Given over $140M in cash and in-kind donations to grassroots environmental groups. 
  • Used 76% renewable energy globally in its locations to reduce CO2 emissions. 
  • Incorporated reusable materials such as recycled fibers in their materials. 

These are just some of the many sustainable measures they’ve put into place — and why they’re such a popular outdoor clothing brand.

Used Clothing Resales and Trade-In Opportunities 

worn wear screenshot

With Worn Wear, Patagonia capitalizes on two consumer trends: the aforementioned push for sustainable products and the growth of buying clothes secondhand. Reports predict resale clothing will make up 27% of secondhand buyers’ closets this year.

Through this program, you can trade in gently used Patagonia clothing or buy it at a discounted rate, which helps reduce the amount of clothing that ends up incinerated or lining landfills. 

Expand Your Brand and Build a Loyal Audience

With these real-life examples of ways that B2C brands have built brand loyalty, you should come away with some ideas of what you can do to build a loyal following for your own brand. 

Interested in discovering other tactics to grow your business and retain more customers? Learn how to build a holistic digital customer experience, check out three ways to align your brand with social responsibility, or explore how retail media networks impact the future of ecommerce.

Michelle Philippon headshot

Michelle Philippon is a content marketing manager at Goodway Group. A creative and results-driven marketer with a record for producing captivating content, Michelle loves working with Goodway’s internal subject matter experts (SMEs) to provide useful insights to help marketers power their marketing campaigns to achieve meaningful outcomes. Michelle has over 10 years of experience writing for both business and consumer audiences. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where she enjoys reading, hiking through Cleveland’s many metroparks, making jewelry from sea glass and drinking way too much coffee.