eCommerce Trends

Customer referral programs | Top 7 best practices you won’t find elsewhere

Here’s Talkable’s list of Top 7 ideas for referral programs that work better than your competitors’. Real shops, and real examples.


Word-of-mouth marketing is not the same as it was five years ago. Many marketing professionals, especially in eCommerce, worry that they’re just planning to start a reward program for their business, their competitors have already taken the best referral program ideas. 

If that sounds familiar, we’ve got good news for you! Аfter reading this article, even your first referral campaign will be an all-star success! 

Here’s Talkable’s list of Top 7 ideas for referral programs that work better than your competitors’.

1. Sweepstakes 

Sweepstakes campaigns are usually for a limited time and give your brand advocates a chance not only to receive a regular customer bonus for sharing their referral link with friends and family but also to enter a contest with a grand prize.  

These campaigns are great for engaging customers and adding excitement to your marketing activities planned for occasions like Christmas or Black Friday

Here’s an example of a sweepstakes campaign designed for National Lipstick Day:

Lime Crime sweepstakes referral campign

This campaign’s result? A 643% increase in shares


2. Dedicated email campaign 

This is one of the best incentive ideas for all businesses launching new products and desperate for more leads and sales. 

The referral program idea here is simple: send a dedicated email, promoting your referral offer with a focus on an attractive reward for advocates. Who would turn down such a bonus, right? 

james allen referral campaign email screen

3. Sample giveaways

Sample giveaways are the perfect referral program idea for every business selling extraordinary products that cause addiction. As the old saying goes, give a man a sample, and he’ll keep coming for more. 

One of the leading Japanese skincare brands used the sample giveaway to reward their most loyal customers and encourage them to share their favorite secret-formula skin powder with friends who’ve never purchased it before. 


Since advocates’ friends didn’t have to purchase or complete any other action in return, this referral campaign showed a 15% share rate among those who received the offer, with an average of 2.6 shares per advocate, and an outstanding friend conversion rate — 56%.

4. Exit intent 

We all have had those moments while shopping. You like something at the store, but then you remember about your promise to keep better track of your budget, and a crazy idea to sell all the things you own and start living a minimalist life with only 30 things in total like that trendy Youtube blogger. 

Guess what, sometimes your customers have moments like that too. Or maybe they’re too busy to shop right now. Whatever it is, you can help them make that purchase they’re not so sure about with the exit intent campaigns. Just remind them of the sweet deal they have just when they’re about to leave the store. 

According to our data, exit-intent campaigns, on average, can bring you over 50% of your total referral revenue. If that doesn’t convince you to try this referral strategy out, we don’t know what will. 

5. Product sharing 

In the world of referral marketing, you can’t surprise anyone with sharing your favorite brands and stores with friends anymore. What’s on the agenda today is product sharing. Instead of sending friends a link to an online store (they probably know already), your customers can now share that specific pair of running shoes that would help their best friend to nail the marathon they’re preparing for. 

Cult Beauty product sharing campaign

For Talkable clients, product sharing campaigns, on average, show a 3 times higher share rate and an overall 6% increase in referral sales. 

6. Leaderboard campaign

Leaderboard campaign is a referral contest that typically lasts one or two weeks and helps businesses celebrate their most active and loyal brand advocates. Game ideas are not new to marketing. They’re popular for a reason: being competitive is at the core of human nature, so is the excitement we feel when we see a real chance of winning an awesome prize.  

If your referral software vendor doesn’t support leaderboard campaign features, maybe it’s time to switch to a more advanced option. Why? Well, maybe because of the 240% increase in referrals you’ll see:

referral campaign Talkable example

7. Tiered rewards 

If you’ve already tried running refer-a-friend campaigns and haven’t had much success, we want to share a strategy that we know for sure will help you effectively promote referral programs and increase both advocacy rate, and the number of shares per advocate. 

Three words: tiered reward campaigns. These types of referral programs allow your customers to earn bigger rewards for referring more new customers keeping them interested and motivated to keep sharing about your business. 

Here’s an example of how your next awesome referral offer could look like if you’d decide to introduce tiered rewards: 

Tiered referral campaign Knockaround


Whatever direction you choose to go with for your next referral program ideas, we encourage you to follow these 5 simple steps for every successful referral program: 

  1. Plan 
  2. Experiment 
  3. Measure 
  4. Analyze 
  5. Repeat  

That way you’ll always achieve the best results that will make your competitors jealous. 

Need help executing one of the ideas from our list? 

Jump on a call with one of our referral marketing experts and learn how you can start your new referral program today. 


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