When The Teardrop Explodes sang about learning to accept their reward, they probably weren’t referring to Tesco vouchers or Morrison’s Match and More points. Actually, they may have been – they were a band ahead of their time, singing excellent songs that lyrically made little sense.*
Loyalty is a strange thing. For some, it comes easy and for others, well, I guess the commitment can be daunting. For shoppers in the twenty-first century, it is easily bought and somewhat expected these days. You may be surprised to know that retailers have been running loyalty schemes since the late 17oos, when copper discs were given out with purchases. These tokens could then be used against the cost of further purchases from the same retailer. As a child, I remember my Mum having books and books of the replacement to copper tokens – Green Shield Stamps. I recall the books, even the apparently endless licking of the stamps (yuk!) but I don’t remember what these books actually gave us, apart from dry mouths. Lemonade, probably. Oh, the irony…
But what exactly is the point of a loyalty card? After all, if I shop at a particular store for a particular item, I must have a reason, right? There can really only be two main drivers – cost and quality.
If I buy something from a shop because it is the cheapest, then a loyalty card isn’t going to stop me buying it cheaper from somewhere else the next time unless it is really obvious what the loyalty card benefits are worth in monetary terms (which is so rarely the case these days – you need an ‘A’ level in Further Maths** to work out what some schemes return).
If I shop somewhere because of my perceived quality of the product, then a loyalty card is unnecessary unless it somehow improves the quality of the product each time. Now there’s a thought – the more you shop in a supermarket, the better the quality of the food becomes. Only when you have proved your loyalty can you be allowed to purchase the shop’s Finest Quality range of food.
If I am concerned about both quality and cost, then a loyalty card is going to be even less of an incentive to remain ‘loyal’ to a particular place.
Cynically, I feel that these schemes are largely really ways of legally extracting your details, address, name etc. so that they can be sold on to an ever-increasing number of dodgy outfits that make those dodgy calls about PPI, computer viruses and ‘that car accident you had last week’. They also allow the companies to build up profiles of the kind of shopper you are, profiles they can also sell on to third parties.
OK, so are there any genuinely ‘good’ loyalty cards then? Well, I liked the idea of the Handmade Burger Co card that gives you a free side or a free burger every few trips. It’s a cardboard card that is stamped each time and can be recycled when full so there are no details passed on to the company. The Lampeter town loyalty card has been successful in encouraging people to shop within the town (and it has a fantastic range of non-chain stores to choose from) and has an incentive in the form of a monthly draw.
BUT… my favourite idea for a loyalty card scheme is the one run by Social Bite Cafe in Edinburgh – it is what they call a ‘selfless’ card, whereby your purchases build up points and when your card is full they put aside a meal for a homeless person. You can read up on them having a visit from one G. Clooney here.
I do wonder how many takers schemes such as Air Miles, Tesco Clubcards or Morrison’s Match and More would have if the reward was given to someone else. For online purchases, there is of course the excellent Give as you Live system which seems to work pretty well (if you don’t know about it, check here for details. It’s very easy to set up and, for most sites, works automatically.).
Perhaps we should learn to accept that our reward should go to someone who needs it!
* They are the only band to have started a top 10 single with the lyrics “Bless my cotton socks” which is nearly as bizarre an opening line as Elvis Costello’s “Well I ask you”.
** Not to brag, but I have an ‘A’ level in Further Maths, and I find that some of the rewards are incalculable – in a bad way.