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.

8 Responses

  1. There is a Safeway across the street from work, and Safeway lets you also use “your” registered phone number if you’ve “forgotten” your card. So of course someone at work registered our work phone number to a discount card, and people just key in our phone number.

    I actually don’t. I don’t shop there very often so I just pay the slightly higher price as a matter of principle, the rare times I go there. I much prefer to just frequent better stores anyway, though. It helps that there’s a Whole Foods right downstairs from my apartment (and their prices are about the same as Safeway’s these days), and a much better liquor store by the Safeway, so I basically have no reason to go to Safeway unless I need a quick lunch. Conveniently, quick lunch things are generally not “discounted” (i.e. marked up) anyway.

  2. I think you should make your own bar code and afix it to the loyalty card. Encode something fun. Have the bar code display “USA4EVR” when scanned. If there’s a way to arrange it where the bar code will shut down or ruin their loyalty card database so much the better.

  3. A “random” UPC would need to start with a 6, to fall within the number space reserved for local store use. Then you have ten digits to play with, plus a check digit. So, if you can think of something interesting to do with that, go nuts.

  4. When you have a loyalty card at a place, you’re also more likely to shop there.

  5. I wonder how much loyalty cards actually affect customer loyalty, when every store in the region seems to have one. I suppose some customers might prefer a store that has one to a store that doesn’t, but when the store that doesn’t is giving you the same discounts otherwise, is that really a factor? Or is it all in the mind of the customer?

    It’s not quite the same as an airline’s frequent flyer program, where it’s repeated patronage that’s required before you get any significant benefit.

  6. 1) I suggest displaying “NRA4EVR” …bonus points to whoever knows *that* one.

    2) My keychain is lean and uncluttered, thank you.

  7. Whoo! I get bonus points!

  8. Simple- it’s an advertising gimmick. They talk about how much you can “save” on groceries with the card, remind you how much you’ve saved on every receipt, and some even offer bonuses (spending $100 with a Kroger Plus Card can get you a .15/gallon discount on your next gas fill-up with them).

    Maybe people aren’t saving that much, but they feel like they are- and that helps inspire them to keep coming to that store.

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