21 Best Referral Programs and What they Can Teach Us

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Referral programs are a low-cost, high-reward way to scale your business quickly using your best asset: your customers. By turning your customers into brand advocates, you can lower customer acquisition costs and increase lifetime value.

If you’re ready to build a customer-led growth strategy, this list of the best referral programs across various business models will inspire you.

Table of Contents

Retail & E-commerce Referral Program Examples

1. Madison Reed

Madison Reed is a haircare company that delivers color treatment products, hair accessories, styling tools, and more. With the company’s invite a friend program, customers get a $15 credit for every referral who signs up, and referrals get a $15 discount off their first purchase.

Source: Madison Reed

Pro Tip: Use language that grabs attention and suggests exclusivity. Madison Reed, for example, uses phrases like, “Share the secret of hair color … with your friends and family,” to create a sense of intrigue. For referrals, this type of enticing language can influence the perceived value of a product and convert more people.

2. Glossier

Glossier is an online retailer that sells skincare, fragrance, and beauty products. Thanks to their strong referral program, the company has become a beauty staple among millennials and Gen Z.

Advocates get a $10 store credit when a referred customer clicks on a personalized referral link, creates a new account, and places an order. The caveat is that all three steps must be completed in the same website session for the discount to apply. For referrals, their reward is 10% off their first purchase from Glossier’s website.

Pro Tip: Add a time limit to your rewards. Glossier’s referred customers must complete a purchase within 90 days of receiving their reward, or the deal expires. This creates a sense of urgency and encourages the user to purchase quickly.

Read our detailed takedown of Glossier’s marketing strategy to learn more. 

3. MOO

Moo is an online print and design company. They offer various paper products such as business cards, stationery, flyers, and postcards. Moo’s referral program offers two ways to earn rewards. When customers refer a friend,  they have the potential to win a $20 gift card. Refer a business (minimum of 10 employees), and that reward goes up to $150. Individual referrals who sign up get 25% off their first order, and businesses who sign up get a dedicated account manager, discount, and more.

Source: MOO

Pro Tip: Offer tiered rewards where customers can earn more, depending on how many people they refer. By presenting multiple options, you’re increasing the customer’s perceived value of a reward based on how it compares to other tiers. Just make sure to clearly explain the differences between each tier and what your customers need to do to earn those rewards.

4. Thinx

Thinx is also an online underwear retailer focusing on women’s health, offering an array of period underwear. The company offers $10 to customers and referrals who participate in their refer-a-friend program.

Source: Thinx

Pro Tip: Use your messaging to highlight how your product solves an unmet need. Thinx, for example, refers to its successful referral program as “the period revolution.” Consumers are drawn to innovative products. That’s because purchasing those products makes them feel like they’re part of a bigger initiative.

5. Brooklinen

Brooklinen lovingly refers to its products as “The Internet’s Favorite Sheets.” Its referral program is integral to their fast growth. They offer various rewards to customers who complete specific actions, such as following the company on Instagram or leaving a product review. The most attractive incentive, however, is their “Refer-A-Friend” offer. Customers and referrals each get $25 off their next purchase of $100 or more when participating.

Source: Brooklinen

Pro Tip: In addition to creating a pop-up dedicated only to your referral offer, consider including it on a landing page that lists all your rewards programs. This gives your customers lots of options to save and lets them see how they can earn more money for future products.

Read our detailed takedown of Brooklinen’s direct-to-consumer marketing strategy to learn more. 

6. HelloFresh

HelloFresh is a subscription-based meal-kit delivery service that expertly uses a referral program to scale their business. An existing customer can log in to their account to access their referral code. New subscribers receive $110 off their first order, and existing customers get a $10 credit.

Source: HelloFresh

Pro Tip: Give customers the option to share a referral code via social channels and provide a shareable link. Give customers options to make it easier to invite friends via the channels they use most.

Read our detailed breakdown of Hellofresh’s marketing strategy

7. Blue Bottle Coffee

Selling coffee, brewing equipment, mugs, and more, Blue Bottle Coffee got its start in Oakland, California. Since then, they’ve grown to serve customers across the United States, Japan, and Korea. Customers and friends participating in the company’s referral program each get a $20 credit for future purchases.

Source: Blue Bottle Coffee

Pro Tip: Consider using personalized shareable codes so they’re easy for customers to remember and share anywhere. Blue Bottle Coffee includes their name and a randomly generated code. Exchange the random code for the customer’s name to make the code more memorable and easier to share.

Travel & Transportation Referral Program Examples

8. HotelTonight

HotelTonight is a travel booking app that offers users last-minute, discounted hotel deals. When advocates use the app to share their referral code with friends and family, they get $25 toward their next booking. Referred friends also receive $25 toward their first booking – provided the booking is at least $135.

Source: HotelTonight

Pro Tip: Even though advocates can share their referral code in places like email and social media, they receive credit only when their friends download the HotelTonight app and make a minimum-purchase booking. Use this technique if your goal is to increase engagement with your mobile app.

9. Outdoorsy

Outdoorsy is a vacation rental company similar to Airbnb but with an adventurous side, letting you rent RVs, cabins, tent sites, and other camping shelters. With their referral program, invite your friends to create an account. If they use your referral link, they get $50 off their first trip, and you get $75 off your next trip. If your referral lists their own RV or campground, you’ll make $100. 

Source: Outdoorsy


Pro tip: Referral programs can do more than just generate sales. Here Outdoorsy is using them to generate host sign-ups as well.

10. Marriott Hotel

Marriott uses a point-based system to reward customers for referrals. Members can refer up to five new customers annually, potentially earning points for each. Bonus points can be redeemed for a number of rewards, including discounted flights, rental cars, gift cards, concert tickets, and travel packages.

Source: Marriot

Pro Tip: Use a points-based system instead of discounts to save money and to keep your customers coming back. Marriott, for example, gives new referred customers 2,000 bonus points after their first five stays, incentivizing them to book more trips to earn their reward. Plus, the ability to rack up points for a number of redeemable rewards drives customer loyalty.

11. Citi Bike

Annual members who use Citi Bike‘s bike-sharing system can get a free month for each successful referral. Citi Bike’s terms explain that advocates can earn rewards for up to 24 referrals, translating into two free years of service. This is a great incentive!

Source: Citibike

Pro Tip: Spell out the long-term benefits advocates stand to gain from participating in the program. The more they stand to gain over time, the more likely they’ll be to participate.

Software Referral Program Examples

12. Gusto

Gusto offers U.S. businesses cloud-based payroll, benefits, and HR management software. Their incentive program offers accountants a way to grow their business. Based on a four-tier system, every client an accountant refers to Gusto will earn rewards. The more clients who sign up for Gusto, the higher the rewards. Accountants also get rewards for referring other accountants.

Source: Gusto

Pro Tip: In business, the best referral programs position themselves as a partnership. Gusto does this well by positioning its referral program to help accountants grow their business and get more clients. Don’t just ask your customers to be advocates for your brand – be advocates for them as well. This will make participating in the program feel more like a reward than an ask.

13. Airtable

Airtable is a project management and organizational tool built to help SMB teams stay organized. Their referral program gives advocates a $10 credit every time they refer someone new to the platform. When a referrer builds up enough referral credits, they can use those credits to upgrade their account to a more premium plan.

Source: Airtable

Pro Tip: When it comes to products like project management, more capabilities mean more efficient workflows. Allow customers to build up their referral credits to purchase higher-value rewards. This will motivate them to refer more users.

14. Dropbox

Dropbox is an online data storage platform. Customers with a basic Dropbox account get 500MB of storage added to their account for every referral they make, up to 16GB total. For Dropbox Plus and Professional customers, the reward per referral goes up to 1GB each (with a 32GB max).

Source: Dropbox

Pro Tip: Include a referral status bar in your program so customers can see how much they’ve earned to date. You’ll give them a goal to aim for so they keep sharing.

15. Justworks

Justworks is an online platform that helps businesses manage payroll, employee benefits, and HR responsibilities. Justworks doesn’t mess around when it comes to referrals. For every company that signs up through a referral link, the referring customer earns $100 per employee. So if a customer refers a company with 100 employees, the customer will get $10,000 in rewards for a successful sign-up.

Source: Justworks

Pro Tip: To show companies how quickly rewards can grow, share examples. Justworks clarifies that the larger the company a user refers to, the more money the user can earn. After all, a $10,000 reward opportunity is pretty hard to pass up.

Finance Referral Program Examples

16. Intuit QuickBooks

Quickbooks accounting software offers referrers a $100 prepaid Visa giftcard for each successful referrer.  Plus, the referred customer gets a 50% discount.

Source: Quickbooks

Pro Tip: Put emphasis on the fact that advocates are helping their friends and family improve their user experience by partnering with you. QuickBooks, for example, encourages customers to help their friends “focus on their passion.” This makes the referral program feel more personal, increasing the follow-through rate.

17. Robinhood

Robinhood is an online investment app. For every new friend a customer invites to join Robinhood, both the customer and the referral earn free stock (up to $500 a calendar year).

Source: Robinhood

Pro Tip: For investment companies like Robinhood, disclosing any financial information customers should know when investing in stocks is good practice. Robinhood, for example, clearly explains how customers should report the income they receive from free stock when filing their taxes. Laying out this type of information will help referrals new to investing feel more comfortable with becoming a customer.

Read our detailed breakdown of Robinhood’s referral marketing program

18. American Express

The American Express referral program can earn customers 15,000 Membership Rewards points (up to 55,000 per calendar year) for referrals who sign up, while referrals get at least 10,000 points, depending on which card they sign up for.

Source: American Express

Pro Tip: Points are a great referral incentive because they can be accumulated over time and used for big purchases. Consider partnering with retail companies to show customers what they can purchase with points earned (e.g., major appliances).

19. Acorns

Acorns is a financial investment service that specializes in micro-investing and robo-investing. When customers refer friends to Acorns using a custom referral link, both parties receive a $5 bonus. Bonuses are rewarded only when a friend’s account is approved and they make a successful investment.

Source: Acorns

Pro Tip: Offer referrals a reward that gets them started with your app. With a $5 credit already added to their account, referred customers only need to choose their investment to get started. It’s a way to engage new customers with your brand quickly and with minimal effort.

User Service Program Examples

20. T-Mobile

T-Mobile is one of the largest mobile phone distributors in the world, with a strong referral program to boot. For every friend you refer, you get $50, with a cap of $500 a year.

Source: T-Mobile

Pro tip: If you have a tight budget, consider adding a cap to your referral reward. It’s an easy way to build a budget for your marketing strategy – you know exactly how much you will spend on referrals for the year.

21. Sling TV

Sling TV is a streaming service that lets users find and watch shows that match their unique preferences. When advocates refer a friend, they both receive $20 off their first month.

Source: slingtv 

Pro Tip: For service providers, spreading your referral reward over several months encourages customer retention. That’s because the more customers get used to a service, the more likely they will stick with it to avoid change.

The Best Referral Programs Are Managed with a Growth Marketing Tool

The easiest way to manage a referral marketing program is with a growth marketing tool like Extole.

A growth marketing tool can boost your customer-led growth strategy by letting you personalize and segment your referral program, offer cross-platform engagement, and use referral insights to fine-tune your program. 

Once you set up a tool, it can automate many day-to-day responsibilities, like tracking referrals and managing payouts. Best of all, it’ll free up your time to focus on growing your business.

Ready to get started? Request a demo with one of our experts and experience a powerful combination of events, rewards, and real-time personalized content.

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