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Merchants always ask us for examples of referral programs in their industry. Each industry has special constraints and unique consumer behavior. Most consumers have many fashion and cosmetics brands in their wardrobe but only subscribe to one meal kit delivery service at each time.
Here’s our list of fantastic Shopify brands using referral programs for acquisition, sorted and categorized by industry. We’ve also tried to capture a sense of the industry landscape, and how that shapes the referral programs in each industry. We dive deep into the first example for each section as well.
P.S. If you’re thinking about a referral program for your Shopify store, why not check out ReferralCandy?
Let’s take a look at 30 examples of Shopify stores using referral programs to win in their industry.
Fashion ecommerce fashion is a highly competitive industry. The fashion industry has the highest ad CPC compared to other industries. Ad spend is also the main channel that drives new customer acquisition; according to Common Thread Collective, paid ads make up 60% of all traffic for growing ecommerce fashion brands.
We see a trend of fashion brands using referral programs to address the high costs of customer acquisition and customer retention. Friend offers are generous discounts, to get the customer to make their first purchase. Meanwhile, existing customers are rewarded with store coupons to prompt repurchases.
We’ll delve into detail with a great example of such a brand, UNTUCKit, accompanied by other examples which follow this trend.
UNTUCKit began as a DTC brand offering shirts designed to be worn untucked. The brand has since expanded with offline physical stores, as well as smart-casual apparel for men and women.
UNTUCKit’s referral friend offer is bigger than the welcome offer for new customers (20%). You want your customers to use the referral discount, not get distracted by a potentially bigger welcome offer.
Founder Chris Riccobono once remarked that “Men just want to find a fit and then not change from that”. The 25% off for existing customers makes it a no-brainer decision to make a repeat purchase from UNTUCKit.
UNTUCKit’s referral program fits in as a key building block alongside social platforms and affiliates for customer acquisition.The brand has a broad marketing strategy that spans offline and online channels, including offline media like TV, radio, and print, and online channels like social platforms and retargeting.
The next few examples follow the pattern of generous discounts for friend offers, and a store coupon for the advocate reward.
Bombas sells comfort-focused socks and underwear with bold colors and patterns.
Rothy’s makes stylish and washable shoes and handbags from recycled materials.
NOTE: Read more about Rothy’s referral program here.
Christy Dawn sells vintage, timeless dresses, and recently launched a farm-to-closet collection with cotton grown from sustainable practices.
NOTE: Read more about Christy Dawn here.
Athleisure is carving out its own category within fashion. McKinsey estimates that athleisure is part of a US$1.4 trillion trend towards wellness and self-care, accelerated by the pandemic. During the pandemic, Lululemon and Nike reported stronger sales than traditional fashion & apparel retailers.
The athleisure ecommerce industry shares many characteristics with fashion: a hefty store discount for a friend offer, and a coupon code for store credit/discount for next purchase. The goal is to acquire new customers while retaining existing customers.
Let’s look at Alo Yoga, a brand that retains customers by dominating the social conversation, and other athleisure brands competing in the ecommerce space.
Alo Yoga is a sportswear brand founded in 2007 focused on yoga outfits, and now diversifying into everyday ‘fashion’ wear and wellness supplements.
According to SimilarWeb, Alo Yoga was the fastest-growing activewear brand by web traffic, and the brand is everywhere on social media.
Like in other fashion and athleisure referral programs, Alo Yoga offers $25 in store credit to prompt an existing customer to repurchase. But your referral link is only valid for 3 months, incentivizing you to hustle your friends into a purchase with urgency.
When you go to redeem the code, they tempt you with an additional 10% discount if you sign up for their newsletter. The goal here is to bring new customers into their ecosystem for remarketing and retention marketing with their newsletters.
Alo Yoga’s referral program fits in with the brand’s approach to creating a community of yoga and wellness enthusiasts at every level: celebrity, instructor, and individual.
On Instagram, @aloyoga features famous yoga influencers like Sjana Elise and Tawny Janae. If you’re a certified yoga instructor, you can get a 25% discount under Alo Yoga’s Pro program. At the individual level, there’s a weekly Alo Challenge to encourage members of the community to post on Instagram.
Posts tagged #AloYoga from Instagram are all from regular people
Outdoor Voices is an activewear lifestyle brand for everyday people, not competitive athletes.
What’s unique is that Outdoor Voice’s referral codes expire after 2 weeks, tapping into urgency to prompt customers to make a quick purchase.
Weekendbee sells sportswear created from sustainable sources and materials.
Weekendbee’s coupon codes also tap into urgency to cue repeat purchases, by expiring after only 30 days.
Bandier blurs the line between fashion and fitness, by offering activewear as well as designer fashion items like cardigans and knitwear.
Bandier bucks the trend by offering loyalty points for its advocate reward - but to redeem it, you have to convert your points into a discount code at checkout. This adds an additional step for customers, which can be confusing. Personally, I feel offering a coupon code is more straightforward, and a more effective incentive.
Mondetta Performance Gear (MPG Sport) offers sustainable, technical clothing,
MPG Sport also rewards advocates with points, but redeeming the points is even more complicated: 100 points can be $1, or you can save up 900 points for 10% off. This could lead to customers being confused.
Merchants have told us that in their experience, points complicate things. Clearer incentives are more effective in getting customers to make a referral, although we can see the opposite in the cosmetics industry below.
You want your customers to enjoy their rewards, not calculate points.
Unlike the other brands on this list, SportPursuit is an ecommerce shopping platform, SportPursuit members can shop from a variety of brands with exclusive discounts, and daily deals delivered right to their mailbox.
We found this interesting little twist at the end of their email newsletters:
SportPursuit celebrates the outdoors by planting two trees for every successful referral. It’s an unusual reward, but one that works for its target customers.
Beauty is also a highly competitive industry. Brands face exceptionally high customer disloyalty: a Poshly survey of 4,000 women found that the average consumer owns 40 different makeup products from different brands.
Beauty brands want to prioritize customer retention, and they all seem to be following Sephora’s playbook of creating a customer loyalty program with tiered rewards and points. Beauty referral programs tend to offer points as advocate rewards, but it seems that cosmetics consumers are familiar with the points system.
Referral programs also cut through the noise by being a personal recommendation. An Ipsos survey found that women were twice as likely to say that their mother and friends influence their beauty routine compared to Instagram.
Let’s dive deep into Thrive Causemetics, and check out other examples that follow this trend.
Thrive Causemetics is a DTC makeup brand that fights for causes, and the mission statement is a big part of branding.
Offering points as a reward is very common in the beauty industry. The $10 friend offer is also larger than what you get for creating an account - 100 points, or $1.
Thrive Causemetics is a brand fighting for causes. Their products are organic; vegan, cruelty-free and without parabens, latex or sulfates. They also donate a product towards a woman in need, for every product purchased.
When a customer makes a referral, they’re also telling the story of Thrive and advocating for its causes. That builds a deeper emotional connection that connects them to the brand more than reward points.
Now, let’s take a look at some other examples of cosmetics referral programs.
Ipsy offers a monthly ‘Glam Bag’ that offers different, new cosmetics products for you to discover each month.
Ipsy reward points allow you to select specific cosmetic items to add to your next glam bag. It’s a neat variation but falls in line with other points-based cosmetics referral programs.
Savor Beauty offers natural skincare, inspired by Korean self-care rituals. is also customer retention focused: Give $25, get $25 off next order
Savor beauty keeps it simple with a $50 discount instead of points.
Sports & outdoor activities can be social, which is why referral programs also work well. Communities of sporting/outdoor enthusiasts also tend to trade recommendations.
In general, referral programs tend to reward cash, since sporting and outdoor goods are generally long-lasting, and there’s a longer purchase cycle compared to fashion or cosmetics.
Let’s look in detail at Quad Lock, and check out some other examples which follow this trend.
Quad Lock offers phone mount and case for cyclists, drivers, motorcyclists, and runners, and has sold over 1 million products in more than 10 countries
Quad Lock offers cash as a referral reward for advocates because they know customers won’t need to replace their products any time soon.
It’s also an example of lopsided incentives; Quad Lock offers more value to the referred friend, to get them to try out their product. There’s a lot of competition for phone cases and bike accessories on their market.
Quad Lock revealed their marketing strategy in a Facebook case study: “Consumers hearing about a campaign from multiple sources drives purchase intent.” Their referral program fits perfectly as yet another source for new customers to encounter the brand.
Now, let’s take a look at some other examples that follow the trend.
Cotopaxi offers outdoor apparel like fleece jackets and pullovers, as well as camping backpacks and blankets.
iWader Fishing offers comfortable, ultra-elastic fishing waders.
Word-of-mouth is important among fishing enthusiasts, which is why iWader decided to try out referral marketing as a customer acquisition strategy. You can read more about iWader Fishing in our case study here.
Decathlon is a sports warehouse offering all kinds of products from running socks and bikinis to electric scooters and canoes
Decathlon bucks the trend by offering points, to cue you to make repeat purchases. Unlike the other brands on this list, Decathlon offers a huge selection of products, so there’s always something to spend your points on.
Meal delivery/meal kits are a highly competitive space. The industry is expected to grow at 12.8% annually, led by consumers spending more time at home during the pandemic.
There is also a lot of venture capital money backing the brands, which has led to heavy discounting as sign-up rewards, to entice customers to sign up for a subscription. The many brands also make it easy for customers to churn and try another brand.
Food referral programs are shaped by these trends. As a referred friend, you get a deep discount - but only if you commit to at least one week of orders. Meanwhile, advocate rewards are free meals or coupons for more meals. The trend is for brands to stretch out their retention metric.
We’ll take a look at YouFoodz in-depth, as well as other similar food referral programs offering store discounts.
YouFoodz offers pre-prepared ready-to-eat meals delivered to your door and is focused in major cities in Australia.
At about $10 a meal, YouFoodz’s friend offer is an entire week of free lunches if you order at least 9 meals. The 9 meals (or lunch and dinner for a week) represent a significant commitment and reflect the industry trend of increasing customer retention and fighting churn.
My takeaway: Deals are plastered all over the YouFoodz websites, with most of these deals valid for a 9-meal package. YouFoodz is clearly pulling out all the stops to get new customers to try out YouFoodz for a week.
This is actually the second iteration of YouFoodz’s referral program. The first version simply gave away a free meal (valued at $30); this new iteration is more generous but requires more of a commitment. My hunch is that YouFoodz has determined that 9 meals is the magic number when a customer is convinced to stick with YouFoodz.
Thr1ve also offers fresh, pre-prepared meals delivered to your door, also focused in Australia.
Love Yourself offers fresh, pre-prepared meals delivered to your door, this time focused on London Area
Read more about our case study on Love Yourself here
Love Yourself ran a short campaign where they increased the friend offer to 40% off and saw a rise in customer acquisition and referrals. Read more in our case study.
Health food and supplements is a growing ecommerce industry. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, consumers who switched to online purchases will continue, growing the industry from $5bn in 2019 to $10bn in 2022. Also, more than a third of US consumers are taking more supplements now than before Covid-19.
Health food referral programs share some commonalities with the food and cosmetics industries, in that they want to cue repeat purchases from consumers. However, the copy is more focused on the benefits of the product and sharing. It may be that the good feeling from the supplements is just as important as the discount on offer.
Let’s examine the referral programs TruBrain and Rae Wellness, where the positive effects stand out in the copy.
TruBrain offers health supplements to boost brain performance, featuring nootropic ‘Think Drinks’ as flagship products.
While TruBrain offers a variety of products, the referral program focuses on their subscription box (Give 20% off, get 50% off next box), which is the main product they wish to promote.
Also, note the copy on the landing page - the 20% discount comes after the positive effects of TruBrain: ‘break through mental blocks, conquer procrastination, and improve focus and verbal fluency’. This is the trend for health supplement referral programs.
Like Alo Yoga, TruBrain has recruited influencers and celebrities as part of its marketing campaign. It has featured NBA & NFL players on TV ads and affiliate links for YouTube videos. And almost always, the focus is on the positive effects of the Think Drinks.
A TruBrain ad featuring NFL star 'Gronkl
Rae Wellness offers supplements to nourish your whole body and well-being.
The copy, “Help your friends feel their best”, taps into the good feeling you’ll have when sharing - and after taking Rae supplements.
The baby products market was estimated at $325 million in 2017, growing to 7 billion in 2020. Parents are willing to spend more on baby products if they are time-saving and easy to use for sleep-deprived parents.
For baby referral products we see a trend of cash as advocate rewards. It may be because some brands pride themselves on being high-quality and long lasting.
One interesting thing we’ve seen is that baby products work exceptionally well with referral programs because mom groups talk and parents are very community-based. Word-of-mouth counts for a lot when you’re using products for your baby, and we’ll see this in the example of Dockatot and two other brands.
Dockatot creates soft baby ‘docks’ where babies can rest, nap, and play while next to their parents.
Dockatot’s referral program has been running since 2015. The simple rules and rewards have kept it effective through the years.
In the early days, Dockatot offered a 10% store coupon, but the direct cash incentive proved more effective in motivating people.
Dockatot is transparent about not paying influencers for sponsored content - they only offer products for parents to try using. This lends them an additional level of credibility when they are reviewed by mummy bloggers and recommended on discussion forums like Mumsnet - and when customers make a referral.
Let’s take another look at baby products with two more examples - one also offering cash rewards and one offering custom rewards.
Momomi offers artisanal Japanese soft-touch tatami mats, perfect for families to lie on with their babies.
Momomi’s mats are comfortable and long-lasting, which is why cash rewards are perfect here.
Note: Check out our case study with Momomi here.
Riff Raff & Co offers cuddly sleep toys for infants that play lullabies and white noise to help babies fall asleep.
Riff Raff & Co offers a heftier reward - a free toy - for 5 successful referrals. It’s working too, judging by the success of the program. We think it’s because parents will always know someone else who would appreciate the free toy as a gift, or be able to use the toy as a spare for their own child.
Note: We wrote a case study on Riff Raff & Co's million-dollar referral program here.
Books & educational materials is another broad category, so there is no ‘best practice’ for reward types. Rather, each referral program here has referral incentives that align with the business goals.
If the business model relies on one-off purchases, like exam prep materials, or has a long purchase cycle like yearly journals, then the advocate rewards tend to be cash. If there is a wide product selection range, like for a bookstore, or a book subscription service, then the advocate reward is a discount on the next purchase.
We’ll delve deeper into Critical Pass and Daily Greatness, both of which offer cash rewards, and some examples offering store coupons.
Critical Pass creates test prep materials for law school students and graduates taking the bar examination.
Critical Pass CEO Nathan Kleiner once remarked: “Our goal is to make sure we only have customers once. They use us. We help them pass. Then they never have to buy from us again.”
In this situation, a discount for the next purchase would be a poor incentive, but cash is always relevant. Cash also makes a great reward, because seniors and managers can also refer underclassmen to Critical Pass, and still make use of the reward.
Critical Pass is a brand that truly understands its customers. Nathan understood that customers would be so happy at passing that they would recommend Critical Pass to all their friends. He also knew that people taking the bar exam would not be taking an income, so the dollar reward would be helpful for those who found Critical Pass effective.
Law school prep materials are a big market in the US, with a wide variety of options from online lecture courses to virtual tutoring with call packages. What made Critical pass stand out was organic word-of-mouth marketing from friends or seniors making a referral.
Daily Greatness is a Megastore that offers daily journals with purpose.
Giving cash is appropriate here, as the journals have a long purchase cycle (each journal lasts a year).
Now let’s examine some books referral programs that offer store discounts as rewards.
Discover Books sells pre-owned books in good condition, for those looking to rescue books from landfills.
Discover Books can offer a store discount because its wide selection of books makes a repeat purchase easy.
Reading Eggs Shop is a bookstore offering colorful and engaging educational products for children
A Box of Stories offers monthly subscription boxes for fiction and non-fiction books. for Give £4, get £4 off the next box makes sense to extend customer lifetime
As a subscription service, A Box of Stories customers will always be able to spend their discount on the next month’s box, making store discounts a suitable choice.
Referral programs work for all kinds of industries & categories. Referral marketing works as one part of a complete marketing strategy covering all channels, or as part of a concerted effort to drive word-of-mouth through social and organic channels, or simply as part of a targeted approach to community marketing.
Whether it’s one-off purchases or monthly subscription boxes, whether you have a long purchase cycle or a wide variety of products, referral programs are effective across many ecommerce industries as a tool for customer acquisition and brand building.
If you’re looking for more ideas for customer acquisition, why not check out the following resources:
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We update this article regularly to keep it relevant and useful to e-commerce merchants. Previous versions of this article were written by Visakan Veerasamy, Johanna Flashman, and Marquis Matson, marketers at ReferralCandy.