Disloyalty Card

One of the things I used to like about my local grocery store is that, unlike seemingly all the other chains out here, it didn’t have some asinine loyalty card you needed to have to get the sale price on discounted items. So much for that.

I really don’t see why it’s even in grocery stores’ interests to have loyalty cards in the first place. If they want to track customer spending habits across visits, they could just key their database by your credit card or debit card number (or even checking account number), instead of inventing their own card. After all, how many people these days regularly use cash?

(On the other hand, I kid you not, I once had the person in front of me at the checkout pay for their groceries solely in rolls of coins. And not even handing the cashier enough rolls once the total came up, oh no, but one at a time, bringing yet another roll out of her purse each time the payment came up short. But I digress.)

The other theoretical benefit a store could get out of a loyalty card program would be to better direct marketing efforts towards individual customers. But it’s not as though the store does any validation of the information you put on the application form, or does anything to prevent you from giving the extra copies of the card to other people, say, then-current roommates.

In fact, when my current grocery store started their loyalty card program, the cashier would grab an application, scan the card attached to it, hand you the application, and ring up your purchase. Further visits to the store confirmed that yes, they aren’t even bothering to check if you turned in an application for the card at all; it works anyway. Way to not bother doing even the most basic validity checking. I’m sure the aggregate marketing data you get with that will be ever so useful.

Speaking of which, the marginal benefits to the store have to be weighed against the costs of running the program: making and distributing the cards, training cashiers to ask for the card during checkout, the extra time needed during each checkout to process the card, maintaining the extra database of card activity, etc.

Maybe there’s some fantastic benefit the store gets out of this that I’m missing, but the way I see it, the store would be lucky to do much more than break even with the program, especially compared to the marketing data they could have mined from their pre-loyalty-program database. Is the average customer really enamored with carrying yet another card in his or her wallet, or worse, sticking a miniature card on an already cluttered keychain?

Rest assured, if by some bizarre series of events I ever find myself in charge of a chain of grocery stores, there will be none of that.