The ‘loyalty’ luck of the Irish

A fascinating interview with Christian McGilloway
Chief Technical and Innovation Officer – Retail Zoo

(Retail Zoo brands – Boost Juice, CIBO, Betty’s Burgers and Salsa’s with more than 700 stores nationally and internationally)

When you live and love loyalty (be it a program or an outcome), it’s an absolute delight to find a person with an intense obsession to understand customers, to drive loyalty outcomes and whom believes in the asset of program!

I found all the above when I met with Christian for a chat. Truth be told, his Irish accent made me lean forward and listen very carefully.

He shared his views on telling a story to capture your customers heart, customer loyalty (what it’s not), loyalty programs, gamification and the amazing results his team has driven at Retail Zoo, specifically with Boost Vibe Club.

Just a few facts he shared (more context later) about Boost Vibe Club and APP innovation which amazed me and which did not happen by Irish luck!

  • The program has been going for 18 years
  • 1.9 million members
  • 1,000,000 app downloads
  • One of the first QSR programs to integrate an APP and online ordering
  • Gamification innovation with ‘free the fruit’ back in 2016 that had an average member engagement of 179 minutes (that’s nearly 3 hours with the brand) and more than 255 minutes (almost 4 hours) with their second game 'find the fruit' in 2018 (more about this later).

Facts are facts...but stories are remembered (sorry I cannot remember or find the original quote for attribution) and this was so true for me when I asked Christian about his background.

1. Who are you Christian?

I was born in Ireland (obviously) and after school completed a degree and Masters in Design Communication. It covered a broad base of advertising, design, animation, web and app development.

It was during my studies that my imagination was captured by the famous BMW Film series of 2001 when BMW decided to take its $30 million advertising budget and spent it on producing five ‘mini’ feature films working with luminary directors and producers, such as Ang Lee, Guy Richie, John Woo, Ridley and Tony Scott. The star-studded line-up of actors included Clive Owen, Madonna, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman and Forest Whitaker… !

(Christian spoke about this with great passion and admiration).

At that time these had a defining impact on me as they were about stories and a new way of advertising (long before content was cool) to inspire and engage an audience, rather than purely sell a product.

Customers actively looked for the brand to engage with their 15 minute movies instead of passively consuming their traditional 15 second tvc’s.

Fast forward to today and I have been at Retail Zoo for the past five and half years, innovating “any screen” that our customers interact with – instore digital screens, media boards and mobile.

2. Let’s talk about loyalty

Ok, so to be clear, for me loyalty is not a program (I did not feed him this line).

I believe we have a rewards program that we are continuously working with to drive ‘loyalty’ outcomes, be it spend or frequency and members sharing and telling others about whatever we are offering or asking them to engage with.

We do realise rewards are needed however it does not stop there for us. It goes back to the BMW films…how can we inspire, engage, educate and interact with our members beyond the product (see gamification).

3. More about Boost Vibe Club (Rewards Program)

We now have a huge asset to communicate directly with (1.9 million members). Ideally, we would love them all to have the Boost APP as members with the APP provide the greatest opportunity to be more relevant in real-time, increase engagement and customisation.

They also prove to have a higher ATV and frequency of visit.

We do understand not everyone wants to engage with the brand via the APP platform, so we also give members the option of a loyalty card as well to ensure there is something that suits every customer.

4. What’s your play with gamification?

It all goes back to the BMW movies! It’s because we want to engage and interact in a fun and irreverent way and games just make what we do real and human, quite simply we are all wired to play!

For our first game ‘Free the Fruit’ we were amazed at when our members engaged with the game…most on the way to work and then at bedtime!

We found an average of 179 minutes of game play across 380,000 users in just 8 weeks.

With this first game we provided rewards and prizes within the program for members to redeem in-store.  

In our second edition ‘Find the Fruit, we revealed their prizes in-store – the classic surprise and delight. Incredibly, the average game-play has increased to 4 hours and 15 minutes.

This has been an overwhelming success for us and an area we never stop learning from.

5. How do you stay fresh?

Nothing beats listening to and understanding our customers, however I also:

1. Look beyond the QSR sector to see what’s working (or not)

2. Go to conferences such as SXSW

3. Listen to podcasts and read blogs

4. Develop our teams desire to suggest, try and if it works, keep going!

One idea that came to fruition was a Facebook Messenger BOTS campaign to ‘talk to a fruit and marry one’!

We had over 100,000 members talk to a BOT, pretending to be a fruit, pretending to be a person for an average of 12 days (ridiculous) and one person married a coconut in Japan (nuts!).

6. What do you think are the three opportunities for rewards programs to focus on?

1. Be more relevant! Use the data you have and go deep to see who your customer is.

2. Be as generous as you can be.

3. Don’t devalue your brand or cheapen yourself by trying to be everything to everyone.

The forth one is be a ‘Purple Cow’ with your program - with reference to Seth Godin’s brilliant book ‘Purple Cow – transform your business by being remarkable’!

7. What do think are the three challenges for rewards programs to focus on?

1. Data security should be a priority, but also data integrity. Don’t inflate your database with contact details from prize promotions who won’t convert into loyal customers and the data you are collecting on your customers, protect it. Data is a privilege not a right for brands.

2. Channel Fatigue is extremely worrying. By relying too much on one major communication platform (eg email) is risky as it places all your eggs in one channel’s basket!

3. Lewis Platt said “Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future” and I believe this can be applied to most loyalty programs. There are so many competitors to your brand now so you need to continuously challenge your program’s success factors.

Another basic element is to ensure the earn to redeem rate is achievable. With online calculators it’s too easy to see under the covers of programs that offer 0.5%. If you want to change habit you have to reward with something of value.

8. If you could start Boost Vibe Club again – what would you do differently?

….(a long pause)…nothing! Janine (Janine Allis – founder of Boost Juice) has created an amazing brand and the program is the size it is because Boost has been constantly innovating at all the right times.

As an example, Boost jumped onto email and magstripe cards in the very beginning. We have over a decade of customer data and contact details which helps making decisions a lot easier. I am just bolstering new innovation on an already great program.

9. What do you think is creeping up on rewards programs for better or for worse?

From a brand’s perspective the mobile wallet options for members to ‘store’ or create a digital card are taking members into an aggregated platform providing less opportunity for brands to have a direct and controlled communication channel with their members.

This could be a huge disruption for brands, unless brands innovate to find more reasons for customers to download their apps, they will inevitably lose their mobile channel and have to ‘pay to play’ in the not too distant future.

From a member’s point of view these wallets help them to reduce card clutter and add convenience.

It should always be about the user and these apps make it easier for the user. People will no longer have 50+ apps on their phone and the users will only have the apps of the brand they are truly loyal to.  

10. Finally, do you believe in the ‘luck of the Irish’?

No, instead of ‘luck’ I prefer the word ‘fortunate’ as I have been working with the team and brands that I do. I don’t believe luck just happens…


Christian is a fascinating person with real stories and results to back them up and the interview could have gone in many directions and for hours.

However, for me the standout insights were:

  1. Stories are the foundation for successful customer interaction with or without a program.
  2. If you have a program, protect the asset.
  3. The data you gather through a program is a privilege (not a right) .
  4. Make your program worth remarking on (with thanks to Seth Godin).
  5. Games make a massive difference to brand engagement (time with the brand).

Have a happy loyalty day!