The past decade has seen several trends take place within the Indian economy and society that have completely reshaped how hundreds of millions of people consume.
Delivery apps have become the dominant way to get food for broad swathes of the country, while over 200 million Indians switched to streaming platforms for their music and TV within just a few short years. While these particular trends are well-documented, there is one new development that has been less commented upon.
We’re talking about the rise of points programs in India. Despite being a fringe interest across the country until recently, loyalty points programs represent one of the fastest-growing consumer markets, with revenues and membership rising at an astonishing 13% per year for the past five years.
As a result, the loyalty points market in India is predicted to be worth around $4 billion a year by 2026, meaning that companies are now scrambling to get in on the action. Let’s take a closer look at the booming demand for point programs in India.
Points for everything
If we look at the loyalty points landscape in India today, it’s clear that all of the major market players have jumped on board. The country’s largest domestic vacation provider, Club Mahindra, offers an extensive tiered loyalty program, where customers get free nights and hotel upgrades at resorts across the country in exchange for their loyalty.
Meanwhile, all the country’s top airlines, including SpiceJet, Vistara, and GoFirst, allow all customers to rack up points on every purchase that can be redeemed for miles and upgrades to first class. In the retail space, the RelianceOne loyalty program might just be the largest in the country, with tens of millions of Indians making use of it to get discounts on groceries and homeware items.
Beyond the biggest companies, we also see smaller providers with a focus on the Indian market now doing the same. TimesPoints, the official loyalty program of the Times of India newspaper, allows every subscriber to rack up points for every article they view, every comment they post, and every post that they like on social media.
Interestingly, these points can be redeemed at a huge number of retailers, including Amazon India, Myntra, and Shoppers Stop. Even in the world of online entertainment, loyalty programs are now standard fare. If an Indian wants to play the classic national card game Andar Bahar, they can get loyalty points for doing so online. Anyone who plays online Andar Bahar at Betway casino can rack up points on every game, which can then be exchanged for additional free bets and on-site bonuses. It seems that everywhere we look, it’s all about the points.
In many countries, loyalty point schemes offered by companies to improve customer retention have been around for decades. However, this approach has only really taken off in India from the middle of the 2010s due to strides in technology. There are several factors that can explain this relatively late takeup of point programs.
For one, smartphone penetration absolutely skyrocketed last decade, tripling from around 20% of the population in 2015 to over 60% by 2020.
Soon, around 80% of Indians will have a smartphone. This trend has coincided with a huge uptick in the number of “banked” Indians. In the past few years, hundreds of millions of Indians have joined the banking system, getting their own accounts for the first time and the ability to control their spending digitally.
This, along with a middle class that is 600 million people strong, has helped create a huge market of tech-savvy, discerning consumers with a growing sense of brand loyalty. Elsewhere, it has also been argued that the economic slowdown of the late 2010s prompted hundreds of millions of Indians to begin prioritizing bargains and discounts like never before.
As the e-commerce market has exploded and become more competitive, brands have had to get much smarter about how to retain their existing customers. Once the biggest players such as Reliance Retail and SpiceJet began offering loyalty programs, the rest of the market quickly followed suit.
While we can’t predict the future, it seems that loyalty points are here to stay. As the e-commerce market in particular becomes more competitive, expect more generous points programs in the future.