Until recently, Venus' approach to customer rewards was simple. It simply didn't have a program.

"Our loyalty program was selling good products to consumers, which was tied to getting them to return to our site again," says Jim Brewer, CEO of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based online and catalogue retailer, which specializes in women's clothing, activewear, footwear and accessories. While Venus did offer gift cards tied to purchases, it didn't have a points-based rewards program.

As its target market matures, the retailer expects sales growth to taper off unless it does something to keep its shoppers engaged. Venus is adding rewards and special offers marketing through a private-label credit card program from Alliance Data Systems.

Consumers will be able to earn points for payments, receive reward certificates redeemable on future purchases and obtain special offers based on their past shopping activity. Alliance Data will produce consumer-direct content for online and mobile channels, leveraging analytics and pre-screen capabilities that are integrated with the card program.

Venus will also use Alliance's Epsilon email marketing business, which provides customer prospecting and marketing services using Epsilon's data management tools.

The Epsilon link will allow Venus to benefit from analysis of consumers that may not shop with Venus, but have demographic profiles that fit Venus' customers. "Epsilon can provide more details to the transactional data that we already have in house and build a stronger model for us," says Todd Durden, director of circulation and e-commerce marketing for Venus.

The analysis of a consumer's shopping patterns, combined with payments data, provides a more full view of that consumer, says Michelle Zarlengo, director of new businesses and strategic alliances at Alliance Data Retail Services. "Traditional research into transaction data tells you what consumers are spending money on and how often, but it doesn't really tell you why."

Alliance Data will also use its analytics program to build promotions to drive Venus' shoppers from swimwear—a traditionally dominant category for the retailer—to other product categories. Venus, which was founded in 1982, has gotten along well without a rewards program; the company says it's been growing about 25% per year over the past couple of years.

However, that level of growth won't last unless the company takes action, Brewer says.

"We expect that growth rate will start to slow and we need some added marketing and relationship building to continue our growth," Brewer says.

Venus is adding a loyalty program at a time when many online retailers are tapping advanced data and transaction technology to forge deeper ties with their consumer bases.

"Our research shows that three quarters of consumers say rewards and loyalty programs affect their choice of payment method," says James Wester, a research director at IDC Financial Insights. "Additionally, consumers with higher household incomes report those rewards programs matter more."

Alliance Data manages more than 120 private label and co-bran credit cards and has developed credit-based instant payments with Dwolla and Google.

The company also recently replaced Barclaycard U.S. as the issuer of Virgin America's affinity credit card, launching two products that are co-branded with the airline's frequently flier program. Alliance Data additionally partners with PayPal's Bill Me Later, a provider of instant credit.

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