Overall Loyalty Driver Score: 27.4
Patagonia is in a class by itself when it comes to measuring traditional loyalty marketing prowess and concepts. They have a very low-key, take-it-or-leave-it approach to the products they produce, the price they ask for those products, and their relationship with their customers. It’s almost as if you built Patagonia in a loyalty lab with robots. Robots whose programs and activities will have a lot of overlap with regular human inventions, but ultimately they see only their products and how they should function. We humans just need to get with their program.
This isn’t to say that people are not loyal to Patagonia. They certainly are. And while the fundamentals of a good customer experience are here, they were created from a difference mindset and also created seemingly a lifetime ago before anyone cared all that much about customer loyalty.
Their approach from the beginning has been to create the highest quality products in the most environmentally sustainable fashion as possible, and then charge whatever they want. They are obsessed with creating clothing and apparel that can withstand the rigors of even the most extreme of outdoor extremes. They obsess over materials, over stitching, over sustainability, over fit, over unique colors: all things we want our outdoor retailers to do. If something breaks or otherwise doesn’t go the distance—no matter how long ago you bought it—they will let you trade it in. They will even give your money back, if you’d rather. That is not just confidence in their product. We are not sure what it is, but it is several hundred levels above confidence. And they’ve been doing this for a long time.
To top it off, it’s also routinely rated as one of the best companies to work for on this green planet.
Patagonia is an interesting case study in loyalty as they have no doubt achieved it, just through other means. It’s practically transcendental. As if they have existed in a world where loyalty either isn’t a thing or it’s so common that they wanted to be uncommon. Their methods certainly aren’t for everyone and likely very difficult to repeat without a premium product, but worth a study all the same.
We are still going to put them through the gauntlet of our five drivers of loyalty and see where they measure up. Keep a keen eye on where they excel within this frame and where they don’t.
TIME – 31
Patagonia gets pretty solid marks for saving time, as we believe Time is the New Loyalty Currency. Their BOPIS program does everything it should with communications and what is available, where, in addition to shipping whatever to a store. They do an average job while you are in their store, meaning they don’t slow you down like a car rental company, but they aren’t screaming fast with checkout. Their website and app is helpful at saving time with the standard caching of payment and shipping information, and their communications do better than average of keeping you abreast of both the information you need between order or receiving as well as what’s new.
Streamlined in-store/on location experience – 5
They are just a normal store when it comes to saving you Time on location. They aren’t going to slow you down with long lines or repeating information tons of times or even taking time out to sell you into their loyalty program or get you to sign up for their credit card. Most in-store experiences at Patagonia are very relaxed and chill, helpful without hovering. This is not a downtown Chipotle at lunchtime with conveyor belt precision. You can get out of a Patagonia store in a hurry, but these stores are not betting on that.
Streamlined website/app shopping experience – 8
They do the current A level of ecommerce shopping on both their app and their website. Payment information will be stored as well as shipping addresses for speedy checkout. Most people aren’t flying through their online store to get something, as everything is close to if not the highest cost in the industry. However, they have done the smart work to make it speedy as possible as soon as you are ready to checkout. In addition, they save “most recently viewed products” as well as purchase history (which can be a great memory jogger), and these can be helpful to return to your previous spot, if it’s been too long to recall.
Smooth BOPIS experience – 10
The Patagonia BOPIS process is pretty elegant and a smart thing for any retailer that has brick-and-mortar locations. People shop online and in-store for different reasons. If you can provide a quick online shopping portal and a smooth in-store pickup process, you create a second shopping experience while they are in store. Tractor Supply Company has a sharp BOPIS experience where you have to pick up in the back of the store, walking through every item—twice—just to get what you purchased. Patagonia stores aren’t set up like TSC, physically, but there are ways for them, and every other retailer, to create opportunities with these experiences.
Proactive communications and management – 8
Staying with BOPIS for just one more second, there is an interstitial period in the BOPIS process between checkout and pickup that depends on timely, lean communications. There isn’t much to communicate, but we are always surprised by how often this gets messed up. Simple: order received, order shipped with an arrival date or range of dates, and ready for pickup. These comms don’t need to contain much information, just get to the point quickly, as Patagonia does. This is the crucial connective tissue to create more opportunities for in-store purchases.
Aside from BOPIS experiences, Patagonia is very smooth with their communications. They alert you to cool, unusual things that they are up to, but they don’t pester. When you make a purchase, they know how to keep the conversation going with you without just blathering. Certainly, they can afford to keep emails low because they are a private company without the burden of shareholder demands, and they have the highest priced products in the industry that is chock full of margin. Other companies without this structure often have to beg, borrow, and steal to make quarterly results, and that weight can too often fall on emailing the crap out of customers. You won’t get this from Patagonia.
FINANCIAL – 24
The cornerstone of most traditional loyalty programs is some form of cash back or rewards for using their service or buying their products. This typically equates to some either actual or perceived savings, and so the relationship that a customer has with a brand is one of savings. Here again, Patagonia is not just bucking the trend, but they treat it as if it doesn’t exist. Not only do they not have a loyalty program, but there is not even the appearance of price savings, in fact the opposite. Further still, without a traditional loyalty program to reward purchase behavior and commitment to the brand, it would seem they are poised to lose customers to cheaper versions. But they don’t. In fact, their customers are not only loyal, they are also ambassadors of the brand.
Yet they do excel in a couple areas related to cost and savings that is worth paying attention to and stealing from.
Perceived or Actual Savings – 1
You don’t buy Patagonia gear because you will save money at the register either this time or the next time. They do have sales sometimes or offer last year’s gear or their Worn Wear program, but they don’t offer these items to their most loyal customers, but instead to anyone, whether in their system or just passing by their site or their store. They create no form of branding any of their gear as something that saves you money, even in the spots where it does.
Select or members only pricing – 1
You wish. Continuing their embrace of democracy, everyone is treated as an equal, whether first-time shoppers or lifelong loyalists. You might feel special if you’re on their mailing list, and you get to hear about new items or sales through email, but you won’t have a discount code or anything like that. They want to keep their premium brand premium, and they don’t budge, even for their dedicated fans.
Reward/Loyalty points – 1
They don’t have a traditional loyalty or rewards program.
Sign up Bonus – 1
There is no sign-up bonus for joining Patagonia, as there is nothing to join. Open borders.
Longer lasting products – 10
Here is where Patagonia tops the list, and certainly something to pay attention to if you have a premium product. It is much easier to continue to charge silly prices for underwear and socks and various thicknesses of shirt layers if they truly do the job. And Patagonia products, all of them, from clothing to gear, all will stand the test of time and continue to perform. If they happen to break down, they will take them back as an exchange or for cash, no questions asked. Well, a few questions asked, but they aren’t difficult. For several decades now, consumers are catching on to the benefits of buying premium clothing an gear, particularly for the outdoors, as you can buy once, have confidence it will last, know that it won’t really go out of style, and can handle being stored for years in the garage the same as rigorous weekly outings. So far, Yeti coolers are occupying a similar space with abnormally priced coolers and mugs. Smartwool certainly charges the same, but their gear tends to get holes and tear easily, and you will find no trade-in value for that shirt or those socks when they do break down.
Perceived personal value – 10
The perceived personal value that customers feel from buying, owning, and wearing the Patagonia brand is so distinct is has practically become parody. Those on the outside poke fun at commitment to the brand until they have their own gear. Then they wear that 10-ounce puffy jacket everywhere and rave about its warmth even to those who aren’t asking. The perceived value is practically a club.
CONTENT/LEARNING – 17
Patagonia creates a great deal of high-quality, high-maintenance content from lots of angles, many of them a-traditional, and most of it aimed toward taking care of the environment in some form. It is perhaps a long angle to show that taking care of the environment will allow us all to play in it more and for longer, and then we can use Patagonia gear when we are out playing in it, but it really doesn’t feel like an angle. It just feels like their passion. Certainly, people are wearing and using Patagonia gear in this content, but it often doesn’t even feel like product placement.
It terms of driving loyalty through content, again, Patagonia is this weird exception where they don’t really need it; all of that work has already been done. We certainly feel they could do more to help their newbies know how to use their products and get more out of them, and they definitely have access to anyone they want to show how to really get down with their gear or even just a regular employee to provide some instructions, but we guess they expect more from us.
We are also disappointed that they don’t use their customer data to help predict downstream needs for customers who buy certain items or take certain trips. This sits at their fingertips, and if the reason they don’t use this is from some privacy tip-toeing, they could just ask their customers if they want this data value exchange and let them opt-in. We are certain their customers would gladly opt-in, and this could continue to not only strengthen their brand without messing with their image, but also it will encourage others to follow in their footsteps, as this tactic can be used by nearly any brand, not just premium ones.
How to use products – 2
They do have a giant one page about Product Care that pretty much covers every possible topic you could imagine with respect to cleaning or keeping products tip top, with the occasional repair snuck in here and there. It’s not the way most companies would approach this, as it’s a lot to digest when you are likely only looking for something specific. It’s as if they were forced to create this at gunpoint, and this is the result.
How to get the most out of products – 2
Patagonia gets a little higher marks than another brand would have otherwise received, since they have this aloof brand signature and a customer base who will certainly nerd out about this on every outdoor, online forum, so they don’t necessarily need to do this work, but still they should. They should own they ways in which their product is intended to be used. We have all discovered hidden features of products long into ownership. This is content that should be created for all of their products. It’s not an easy lift from zero, but a light lift with each new product once everything else is done. It’s not like they need to do socks or underwear.
How professionals use these products/services – 10
Where Patagonia shines is in their documentaries. They are creating a lot of them, but a lot of great people doing great work to protect some portion of their environment in their own unique way. Each documentarian’s mission aligns or overlaps with the core Patagonia passion, and viewers can see Patagonia gear laced throughout the documents without chewing at the scenery, while every minute is an effort to protect the world where Patagonia customers use their gear. Or at least claim is the reason to buy this gear.
The breadth and depth of their films is impressive all by itself and has instructions and professional use as the backdrop and scenery for these films about protecting our natural world. It seems like they have no plans to stop. This is an excellent use-case for creating content that is high-quality and aligns with the core of your brand. This is taken to the most artistic and unique level, but that is just what brands like Patagonia can afford to do with their revenues and vision.
Instructional / advice / etc. – 2
Here again we return to the space where we cannot tell if they are remiss in not creating advice and instructional content for their products or if they have talked about it and decided against it. If they decided against this in an effort to fund more documentaries, okay. That’s what private companies get to do that public ones don’t, which is cool, and also better work. In our experience, it is always smart and proper to create all of the core content for your business and brand before moving onto the fun things to do. Core content will survive. It will get traffic from search engines. It is easy to pass along to users and link from and between certain products and content.
Downstream/Iterations/Predictive – 1
By this point, Patagonia should have enough customer data to be able to know which products go together and if you buy this today, you likely want this other thing in a year, and all these things that show up very fluorescent in customer data. We doubt very much that they don’t have access to this data, and we doubt very seriously that their access isn’t giving them ideas on how to help their customers, who are clearly getting into hiking or camping or mountaineering, with the products they might need next. Certainly, it won’t create more loyalty to their brand as they are fairly maxed out, but it is an easy thing to create from their CRM. Why they don’t is beyond us.
ACCESS – 21
The Access Driver of loyalty is a fairly ignored aspect of the Patagonia brand. With their standing, they could command athletes and environmental activists at the highest level and provide access to talks, shows, exhibitions, you name it, sponsored by Patagonia, in lockstep with their mission, and exclusive for their customers. They would all sell out. Alas, this hasn’t been the case, neither this nor similar Access, if ever and certainly of late. They could tie this together with content to work efficiently, but here again they continue with their aloof stance. While it’s not exactly take it or leave it, nor everyone is invited (since there is an elevated cost barrier). This area of their brand loyalty is certainly untapped and a general headscratcher.
In-store/at location – 5
If you can afford to walk in the door, you have the same access as a lifelong brand ambassador. While in tradition circumstances, this seems like a huge miss and a concept that is destined to doom a brand as acquiring a new customer is so much more expensive than keeping a current one, but Patagonia bucks the trend again. Astonishingly.
Exclusivity – Places – 5
A good example of an exclusive place is an airport lounge. You can have a frequent flyer number, be a regular user of an airline, and still not have access to their lounge or their premium lounge. This creates segmentation of a customer base and rewards the truly frequent flyers above even regular flyers. Patagonia doesn’t offer any exclusive places that big lifetime spenders get access to. These places don’t seem to be on their radar. Probably an okay thing for them.
Exclusivity – Events/People – 8
Here is a spot where Patagonia is doing some work to create some exclusivity, though not a ton. However, the breadth of their Ambassador program is so rich, it’s hard to ignore. We have to imagine that Patagonia is creating some indirect exclusivity by powering these natural soldiers to keep doing what they are doing, fund them to be ambassadors of the world they see and love, keep them in the waves and on rock walls and not need to seek “regular” jobs. This gives the rest of us access, indirectly, from helping keep our natural environment natural and allowing these mavens and athletes the chance to keep performing at their elite level so that we can watch them on TV, in competitions, and dream that maybe we can do the same while watching their YouTube channels. If only.
Exclusivity – Product – 1
Given what we know of the brand, they are unlikely to embrace an exclusive product, even something as small as a limited edition beanie for those who have been customers for XX years. But we can imagine tons of products they could giveaway for customers who spend $1000+ in store/online in a day or the like. They are likely calculating that they don’t need to do this, but it would be a like letterjacket for its customers. You know Patagonia would make something super cool that we would all want. Then we would figure out how to spend enough to make it happen.
There is one exclusive product that Patagonia offers, which is something only whispered about in certain inner circles. Apparently, they provide some 50% off everything in the store coupons (up to $2000). They provide them to their employees, a few at a time, so that they can pass out to whomever they like. Maybe this isn’t true, but we have heard about it enough that we believe it is. And while this may not create loyalty or positive revenue, it is something we have never heard another brand doing, and would be super cool if true and if we could have one.
Lead time – 1
Patagonia isn’t the kind of brand to have product announcements like Apple or Nike, so having exclusive lead time on products does not really intersect with the Patagonia way of life as much as it might for other brands, but it is something Patagonia just doesn’t do. Again, with the democratic (though not financial) access to their brand. We have noticed often that they do sell out of certain products and not just brand new items. Chicken and the egg about how to approach the diagnosis here.
Information/Intelligence/Data – 1
This sub-driver of Access loyalty is fairly disappointing in that it would be easy for Patagonia to provide without breaking their silent pledge on democratic access to the brand. They likely (or should) have tons of customer data, especially on their lifelong customers. It would be an easy thing to turn their customers’ purchase behavior into something useful and actionable. Trends on what their other customers have purchased after purchasing the same products…maybe even places their gear has most often been used. Perhaps helpful information when it becomes apparent that people have moved locations (great places to hike that aren’t crowded) or have had children and need help thinking about safe ways to get them outdoors. This could be handled in multiple ways, through content, through Ambassadors who have moved or had kids, etc. That’s just off the tops of our heads, but if we were their customer marketing team, we would be looking very closely at their customer data to see what intelligence we could feed back into the customer base to help them on their way, no matter what way they are heading.
RECOGNITION – 44
The Recognition Driver of Loyalty is a general source of strength for Patagonia in today’s iteration of their brand, though they strikeout in some spots while hitting homeruns in others (Reggie Jackson style) instead of general across-the-board strength. The majority of their efforts are non-traditional and not much of the standard transactional practices, which is both expected with this brand as well as disappointing in some spots. Overall, their ability to Recognize their customers is lacking, despite having some decent marks here. Try as we might to make this taste better than it does, Patagonia does not seem to be interested in having a digital relationship with its customers. Pity.
In-App – 1
You may not believe this, but Patagonia doesn’t have an app. Which makes it very difficult for its customers to either have access to Patagonia products or for Patagonia to help its customers have the same experience on their mobile devices as they do on their phones. They had an app up until 2016, and they must have figured they wouldn’t lose any business or loyal customers if they let this go. Who knows if that prediction has come true. It is really testing the strength of its relationship to customers who have increasingly more options in the highly competitive outdoor apparel space. Here’s hoping.
Individual Emails – 5
Patagonia is no better or worse at emails than any other brand of this type. They aren’t after new business nor bugging us to death, but in between here is opportunity to Recognize who their customers are and turn that into a source of recurring business through tons of, frankly, white belt email ju jitsu.
Newsletters/Blasts – 6
From what we have seen, these aren’t the worst; just a cut above the standard blasts that we have all come to know and expect. They are thoughtful, careful, and recognize that we gets tons of emails every day and think about themselves in this river as opposed to the only boat on it. These blasts tend to be written for a reason rather than to check the box on the content calendar. However, with their length of time in the market, they should be segmenting their customer lists and creating newsletters for each segment based on what is important to them. Not exactly layups, but we aren’t talking 360 dunks either. This structured recognition of the customer, at least by category, it a sure-footed step for any brand, and an easy one for a brand of this stature.
In-Store – 5
While there isn’t any effort given to Recognize a customer while in store, there aren’t many brands yet who have been able to figure this out successfully or simply. Whoever does it first, will create the roadmap for others to follow. Bear in mind, it is seemingly the Patagonia way to treat everyone the same who enters their stores, which is admirable, but also naïve given what is coming in digital customer recognition. They may rate middle of the road today, but we fear their lack of movement to Recognize their customers in other areas of their pipeline is a clue that they will be left following the pack in some form. If they cannot stick with an app from some technical issues, they are certain to seem like an old brand once REI knows everyone in its stores.
On-Website – 7
Patagonia does a decent job on its website storing shipping information, payment credentials, previously-viewed items, and recent purchases. The output is low-pressure and the UI is non-distracting, yet easy-to-find and in the right places. This speeds up the purchase path in a helpful way. There is more to do to bring forward both items that make sense given past purchase behavior as well as Recognition of clothing and shoe sizes, family makeup, and accessories. Certainly, they could turn their “recently viewed” into “customers also bought” fairly easily, but a brand like Patagonia could go even deeper in lots of obvious ways.
Stored Memory – 10
As with REI, Amazon, and Zappos, Patagonia does a smart job storing all of your purchases, which is becoming a standard database move for ecommerce companies, which we love. It is a simple output from the database and has, on its face, the feel of customer Recognition without actually doing much Recognition. It is just putting your activities back in front of you, helping customers to jog their memories about what they want to repurchase, get a different size/color, or never buy again. This is way easier than sifting through old digital receipts or our own flawed memories.
The itch that this scratches with us is that this proves that Patagonia is storing this information in a form where it can be output, yet they aren’t making many more external and visible moves with Recognizing their customers beyond a flat purchase file. There is so much more rich, inherent data sitting here that could be used to weld new people to their brand that is laying there getting rusty.
Community – 10
Patagonia is going to get a lot of credit for recognizing its customers through its community/philanthropic endeavors when its mostly an overlap with its customer base instead of a mission to intersect with it. They produce tons of content intended to protect and use the natural environment, situated alongside the dangers to it. They fund and sponsor dozens of outdoor ambassadors. They have Patagonia ActionWorks, supporting grassroots activists, and they have given 1% of their sales since 1985 “to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.” Patagonia doesn’t do philanthropic activities to get the do-goodery props that many other brands are after. This has been their aim from the beginning and instead of getting more visibility as an intent of this effort, this effort has been executed in such a pure and real way that it attracts people to the brand because they can, additionally, feel great that their dollars are headed to a good place.
This is the difference between doing good and having your philanthropic efforts one and the same with the brand, and doing these activities as a hollow and shallow effort to market to more of your customers or get a visible tax break. The way Patagonia does what it believes in is something every brand should watch and try to imitate.