What is a referral program?
A referral program is a deliberate, systematic way of getting people to make referrals to your business.
People do informally make referrals all the time. But studies have shown that people make far fewer referrals than they’d like to.
A referral program, then, is a way of purposefully encouraging referrals. Modern referral programs use software to detect referrals, keep track of them, and to pay out referral rewards.
What are the best referral programs?
- PayPal. They literally gave away free money, and it worked out great for them. And this was before social media!
- Dropbox. Modelled after PayPal, Dropbox’s referral program got 4 million users in 15 months
- Airbnb. A single user in China led to thousands of signups and hundreds of bookings in a single month.
- Uber. They’ve been in a unique position to run multiple referral programs at once – for users and for drivers.
- Tesla – $1,000 for both advocate and friend, with quite a start-studded list of advocates!
- Amazon Prime –Likely one of the most heavily-used referral programs in recent times.
- Google – When the front page of the Internet decides to run a referral program, it’s worth looking into.
- Evernote. Their referral program relies on a point system.
Thinking of putting together a customer referral program, and need some ideas or inspiration? Here’s a list of 47 referral program examples for businesses of all types.
Click on the following links to jump to your relevant topic:
- A. “Best practice” Referral Program Examples – Famously successful ones, such as Dropbox, Airbnb and Uber
- B. Ecommerce Referral Program Examples – Huge category, split into the following subcategories:
- B1. Fashion Referral Program Examples – Including everything from flash discount sites to watches and designer sneakers
- B2. Beauty & Grooming Referral Program Examples – We’re looking at subscription boxes (makeup, skincare), beardcare products, speciality razors
- B3. Electronics & Gadgets Referral Program Examples – Cutting-edge hardware, including smart luggage, phone cases
- B4. F&B and Supplements Referral Program Examples – Food delivery, detox tea packages, nootropic powders
- C. Other Referral Program Examples – Toys, services, crowdfunding investments and even private jet chartering!
- Further reading – Links to other relevant posts about referral programs – how to setup referral incentives, how to do messaging and so on.
A. “Best practice” referral program examples
1. Dropbox’s famous referral program gives you and your friends 500MB additional free storage space, up to 16GB
Why Dropbox’s referral program was so effective:
- Prior to the referral program, Dropbox was using SEM and affiliate marketing, with a CPA of $288-$388
- But the math didn’t work; their product was $99/year.
- Inspired by PayPal, they added a double-sided referral program, where both referrer their friend get rewarded
- The referral rewards were extra storage space, something that was key to usage and enjoyment of their product
Dropbox’s referral program results:
- Permanently increased sign-ups by 60%
- In Sept 2008 the service had 100,000 registered users
- In Jan 2010 (15 mos.) the service had 4,000,000
- 35% of daily sign-ups are via the referral program
We wrote an even deeper analysis about Dropbox’s referral program here:
How Referrals Built The $10 Billion Dropbox Empire.
2. PayPal’s referral program literally gave users (and their friends) cash – something payment platforms can get away with
According to David Sacks, original COO of Paypal, Paypal used to literally pay people to invite their friends.
It turned out to yield better marketing ROI than traditional marketing channels.
Once they achieved a critical mass of early adopters they dropped the Refer-A-Friend bonus, but they kept it for Merchants. Then they dropped the Merchant bonus, once they reached their target numbers.
Further analysis on PayPal’s referral program here:
The Original #GrowthHackers: How PayPal Achieved 7-10% Daily Growth.
3. Airbnb’s referral program – the 2nd iteration was even more successful than the 1st!
“Airbnb created a referral program […] launched in a private beta to 2,161 existing members and brought in 2,107 new members, nearly achieving a viral growth factor of 1.” [Source]
There’s a lot to love about this referral campaign! Successful referral programs bias the reward to the friend, since people tend to share more out of altruism than out of personal financial gain.
The image above is from what Airbnb’s Growth team calls “Referrals 1.0”.
They released Referrals 2.0 since– here are our notes and takeaways from their video:
Referrals at Airbnb: Our Notes and Takeaways
4. Uber’s referral program lets you give your friends the gift of discounted first rides
(Also, check out the suits that they put you and your friend in. Great way to align their brand on this touchpoint.)
We’ve written more about Uber’s many referral programs here:
How Uber Covered More Than 50 Countries In 3 Years
5. Evernote’s referral program gives your friends Premium– and you get points that you can use towards Premium or increased monthly uploads
What we love about this is the clarity of what constitutes a referral — your friend has to sign in, not just sign up.
We’ve written more extensively about Evernote’s referral program here:
How Evernote Gained Millions Of Users Through Word-of-Mouth
6. Amazon Prime’s referral program is pretty well put together – no surprise, coming from a market leader like Amazon!
Prime members are a lucrative demographic, spending 2x more than others, and ordering more times per year.
- Evocative header image
- Effective use of social proof to make referred friends more comfortable
- Clear calls-to-action encourage visitors to move quickly to the next step
- Wide reach– the referral program is accessible even to non-Prime users
We did a thorough breakdown of Amazon Prime’s referral program here:
Lessons from Amazon Prime’s Referral Program
B. Ecommerce Referral Program Examples
B1. Fashion & Apparel Referral Program Examples
7. Flash sales: Amuze’s referral program gives you and your friends $25 off your next flash sale purchase
We’ve written more extensively about Amuze’s referral program here:
Designer Fashion Referral Program Examples: Amuze
8. Adventure Gear: The Clymb’s referral program is very stylish!
The Clymb sells sporting and adventure gear. Interestingly, they’ve changed their referral reward structure– initially it was $15 credit for a minimum purchase of $50. At the time of writing, it’s now $10 credit, but for a minimum purchase of $25.
We’ve written more extensively about The Clymb’s referral program here:
Apparel Referral Program Examples – The Clymb
9. Accessories & Stationery: Erin Condren’s referral program uses a delightful GIF to explain the process
Erin Condren sells clutches, t-shirts, notebooks, papers, stickers and all sorts of fashionable accessories.
We’ve explored Erin Condren’s referral program in greater detail here:
Fashion Referral Programs – Erin Condren
10. Lingerie: True&Co’s referral program has strong visual images
We wrote more about True&Co’s referral program here:
Fashion Referral Program Examples – True&Co
11. Wool Products: Wool Overs’ referral program has some nice copy and visuals. 10% off to Referred Friends, 5% cash reward to Advocates.
Woolovers sells wool products of all kinds, all around the world.
Interestingly, they choose to give advocates 5% of their friends’ purchase value as a cash reward, instead of giving discount coupons or a fixed sum of cash.
We’ve written more about Wool Over’s referral program here:
Apparel Referral Program Examples – Wool Overs
12. Designer sneakers: GREATS feature their referral program on every page– including their about page!
Greats is a Brooklyn-based brand that sells designer sneakers at an affordable price.
They give both Advocates and Friends $10 off their next order.
We write more about GREATS’ referral program here:
Footwear Referral Program Examples – GREATS
13. Watches & Accessories: DapperTime’s referral program gives you $10 cash for every successful referral you make
We’ve written about DapperTime’s challenges, success and their referral program here:
Watch Referral Program Examples: How DapperTime Grows Its Stylish Business
14. Lingerie: Leonisa’s referral program gives Advocates $20 off and Friends 10% off
We’ve written about Leonisa’s challenges, success and their referral program here:
Lingerie Referral Program Examples: Leonisa
15. Sandals & Footwear: Okabashi’s referral program has Referred Friends spending 13.2% more on average!
Learn more about Okabashi’s referral program here:
Referral Marketing Case Study – Okabashi
16. Student Discounts: Perkla’s referral program gives students 20% off on various aggregated fashion products
We’ve written more extensively about Perkla’s referral program here:
Student Referral Program Examples: Perkla
17. Designer dress shoes: Beckett Simonon’s referral program gives $25 credit to both Advocate and Friend
18. Dresses: Sesura’s referral program gives discounts and coupons to encourage shoppers to buy more
B2. Beauty & Grooming Referral Program Examples
19. Shaving Razors: Dorco USA’s Referral Program gives Friends 20% off while Advocates get 5% of their friends’ purchase
Learn more: Shaver Referral Program Examples: Dorco
20. Speciality Razors: Bevel’s Referral Program gives Friends and Advocates a free month each for every successful referral
Bevel sells shaving products designed specifically for people with curly hair, coarse skin and so on.
We’ve written more about Bevel’s referral program here:
Shaver Referral Program Examples: Bevel
21. Monthly Beauty Subscription Boxes: Julep’s Referral Program gives both Advocate and Friend $15 credit
22. Cosmetics Subscription Box: Blush’s referral program gives $10 credit to both Friend and Advocate
B3. Electronic & Gadget Referral Program Examples
23. Smart Kitchen Robot: Mellow’s referral program– tell your friends about a super-cool smart sous vide machine
Mellow sells a really cool smart kitchen robot that can cook sous vide for you while you’re not even at home. Their first run is already sold out, and they’re due for a second run at the time of writing.
We wrote a blogpost about Mellow’s success here:
How Mellow Made $200,000 In Preorder Sales In Less Than A Month
24. Bluesmart’s Referral Program – Give $20, get $20 when buying smart luggage
25. Wearables: Pavlok’s referral program – Advocates get 20% of friend’s purchase in cash
Learn more about Pavlok’s referral program here:
Wearables Referral Program Examples: The Habit-breaking Pavlok
26. Futuristic luggage: Trunkster’s referral program gives $30 cash to Advocates, and $30 off to Referred Friends
We’ve written more about Trunkster’s referral program here:
Travel accessories referral program examples: Trunkster
27. Hardy phone cases: Rhino Shield’s referral program – gives Advocates 15% off their next purchase when they successfully refer 3 friends
Are you a clumsy person with a history of dropping and damaging your precious tech devices? Do you know somebody who is? Then EvolutiveLabs’ Rhino Shield is just for you. Klutzes know klutzes, so Rhino Shield is served well by a referral program.
We’ve written more about Rhino Shield’s referral program here:
Smartphone Accessories Referral Program Example: Rhino Shield
28. Super Thin iPhone Cases: Peel’s referral program gives Advocates 40% off all products, and Referred Friends 20% off
We’ve written more about Peel’s referral program here:
Smartphone Accessories Referral Program Examples: Peel
29. Ztylus’s Referral Program – phone cases designed specifically to improve your camera experience
We’ve written about their referral program in greater detail here:
Smartphone Accessories Referral Program Examples – Ztylus
30. Saleae Logic Analyzers Referral Program has an incredibly stylish referral email template
We especially love the imagery of the envelope– it makes hitting the Submit button just a little bit more exciting.
Who says logic analyzers need to be boring? We’ve written more extensively about Saleae’s referral program here:
Hardware Referral Program Examples – Saleae Logic Analyzers
B4. F&B and Supplements Referral Program Examples
31. Meal Delivery: 22 Days Nutrition’s referral program gives Advocates 15% off their Friends’ purchase in cash, and gives friends 10% off
We’ve written more about 22 Days Nutrition’s referral program here:
Referral Programs for Healthy Living: How 22 Days Nutrition Uses ReferralCandy To Tap Into Their Fanbase
32. Kitchensurfing’s in-house referral program has multi-tiered rewards
33. Munchery’s referral program allows you to give and get $10 of credit for every referral you make.
Check out more examples of referral programs in the F&B industry.
34. TeaGlad’s referral program gives Advocates $10 cash and Friends 20% off their purchase of cleansing detox tea
35. Nootropics: Powder City’s referral program gives Friends 10% off and Advocates a 6% cash bonus
Learn more about Powder City’s Referral Program here:
Supplements Referral Program Example: Powder City
C. Other referral program examples for inspiration
36. Mattresses: Leesa’s referral program even allows you to donate your referrals credits to charity
Learn more about the results of Leesa’s referral program here:
How Leesa Uses ReferralCandy to Get a Steady Stream of Customers in a Competitive Industry
37. Toys: GoldieBlox’s referral program has advocates sharing for a cause– 20% off the next purchase for both advocate and friend.
GoldieBlox sells toys designed to teach girls engineering skills, and to get them engaged in building and learning. Very strong branding.
Learn more about GoldieBlox’s referral program here:
Educational Toys Referral Program Examples: GoldieBlox
38. Stock Photos & Videos: Videoblocks’ referral program gives Advocates $20 off and referred friends a staggering 90% off
We explore Videoblocks’ referral program in detail here:
Stock Video Referral Program Examples: Videoblocks
39. Furniture: Made.com’s referral program gives Advocates and Friends £15 off
We’ve written more about Made.com’s referral program here:
Furniture referral program examples – Made.com
40. Lunatik’s referral program is significantly more involved than most
Lunatik’s referral program is a little more “involved” than most. It’s more accurately described as an “ambassador” program, looking for greater commitment from its participants, with a greater payoff.
This sort of system works better with more “intense” brands that would-be ambassadors enjoy being associated with.
We’ve written about Lunatik’s referral program here:
Hardware Referral Program Examples – Lunatik
41. MMORPGs: World of Warcraft’s referral program rewards you with exclusive in-game items
Interesting use of language. You RECRUIT a friend. Great way to match the “clan” and “team” language within the product. You’ll get free game time when a friend signs up, which is pretty lucrative. The reward is saving money.
We explored World of Warcraft’s referral program in greater detail:
Social Referral Programs: World of Warcraft.
42. FantasyDraft’s referral program is uniquely multi-tiered (with up to 6 degrees!)
FantasyDraft has a rather unique setup– they actually reward advocates for the referrals that their referred friends make, and the referrals that THOSE people make… up to 6 tiers! This would be overkill in many industries, but it makes perfect sense in a Fantasy Game setting, where friends-of-friends greatly enrich the experience.
We’ve written more extensively about FantasyDraft’s referral program here:
Gaming Referral Program Examples: FantasyDraft’s Multi-Tiered Referral Program
43. Sunworks’ referral program is multifaceted, with referral parties and group discounts
It’s a new, emerging industry, so they’re going all out to educate their potential customers. They reward advocates for throwing parties, and even give away chances to win free a free Tesla Model S!
We’ve written about Sunworks’ Referral Program more extensively here:
Solar Energy Referral Program Examples: Sunworks
44. Booker’s referral program gets business owners referring each other – (an iPad mini for the first referral!)
We’ve written more extensively about Booker’s referral program here:
B2B Referral Program Examples: Booker, Business Management Software
45. AirPartner’s referral program made you a #thousandaire – free 30 mins of flight time for Advocates and Friends
We wrote more about AirPartner’s referral program here:
Air Travel Referral Program Examples: AirPartner
46. Seedr’s referral program brings all the crowdfunders to the yard, giving Advocates a cut of Seedr’s earnings from Referred Friends
Investors refer other investors all the time already– so a referral program makes perfect sense for Seedrs.
We analyzed Seedrs’ referral program in greater detail here:
Investor Referral Program Examples: Seedrs, the Equity Crowdfunding Platform
47. Carpathia’s referral program gets businesses into the cloud
We’ve written more about Carpathia’s referral program here:
Enterprise Referral Program Examples: Carpathia, Cloud Hosting Provider
- Why Referral Marketing Is Awesome
- An Epic List of Referral Program Examples [You are here!]
- How To Setup Your Referral Program
- How To Promote Your Referral Program
- How To Measure and Improve the ROI on Your Referral Program
- How To Increase Referral Rates
Want a referral program of your own?
This post barely even scratches the surface of referral programs.
Ecommerce stores, countless gyms, yoga classes, banks and other service providers have referral programs.
If you have a great product worthy of referrals, then you should do like Dropbox and add a refer-a-friend feature to your business.
Check out what we do at ReferralCandy. We’d love to get more people talking about you!