The question of what loyalty actually means in a retail context was tackled today at the World Retail Congress.
Jeremy Nichols, executive vice-president commercial development for Visa Europe, kicked the session off by saying that traditionally loyalty has meant little more than a reliance on card-based schemes, but that this was undergoing rapid change. Schemes "of this kind deliver value, but is it really loyalty?" he asked. He observed that the in-store payment mechanism can be a very useful tool to build personal dialogue with shoppers.

Peter Fisk, CEO of branding consultancy The Genius Works, agreed, but pondered: "How can you create trust in a non-trusting environment?" He said that too many customers still treat their customers as "average" and that this was no longer enough.

"Which niche are you going to go for?" he asked, urging retailers to replace their current somewhat narrow view of customers with a broader consumer view that would cover areas such as "the world", "wellbeing" and "connecting with people".

Clive Humby, founder and chairman of marketing company Dunhumby, said that the customer loyalty that has been generated by Tesco’s Clubcard programme is capable of replication by other retailers. However, he warned that the central issue for any retailer seeking success of this kind is to "understand the micro detail. The biggest asset any retailer has is their till role [and the ability to make use of the date it contains]."