Friday, June 24, 2011

Loyalty: Retail Style

We all have our favorite places to shop. Typically once a year, and all within about a week, I hit all of my normal clothing places, in quest of the annual wardrobe upgrade. I make regular visits to a couple of coffee shops. On rare occasions I hit a grocery store (many thanks to my wife for handling 99% of that chore). During the spring, I make repeated visits to Lowes for plants, gardening supplies, and pest control. I’ll hit WalMart or Target from time to time, and less frequently you’ll find me picking up a quick item at a CVS or Walgreens. That’s about it.

Now, that doesn’t seem like too much to keep up with, until you take into account all the loyalty programs that come into play. It seems like everyone has a frequent shopper program of some variety. Buy seven drinks, and get the eighth one free. Use a gift card to make purchases, and accrue points. Free refills. Bonus coupons. Special shopping hours. Value pricing. As long as you belong to the loyalty program. Even restaurants have gotten into the loyalty game. And with my business travel, I have to include all of the different airline and hotel loyalty programs.

I must admit that I belong to a number of these programs, even though I’m very aware that they are often nothing more than thinly disguised methods for obtaining important marketing information. They track your purchases, and then bombard you via email or even snail mail with targeted advertising. However, that’s not my biggest problem with these programs. It’s those wretched cards!

I’m a guy who carries his wallet in his front pants pocket (don’t get me started on pockets!). That being the case, I’m a big fan of keeping a very thin wallet. I want a couple of credit cards, my driver’s license, AAA card, health insurance card, gym membership card, and one $20 bill (I hate carrying cash). With that in my wallet, I’m good. But thanks to the loyalty programs, I frequently find myself either missing out on the benefits, or packing a wallet-full of the frequently requested cards. I usually choose not to carry the cards, but then I get frustrated when I wind up losing a freebie.

I know…I know. The alternative is probably having a chip implanted in our hands or on our foreheads or something, so that store clerks can just scan the chip. And over that option, I would definitely prefer the cards. But isn’t there something in between? Like maybe one card that could have many different program ID’s embedded somehow? And I mean, at the very least, could we make a decision, once and for all, to use the same size and style of card? Mini cards. Keychain cards. Credit cards. Too much for a guy with a thin wallet and limited pocket space.

I’ve discovered some tricks along the way. The easiest is to ask the clerk to look up your loyalty number by phone number, which often works. Another is to say you’ve forgotten your card (true!), and I find that many stores have a card that they can run through for you to provide the value pricing. I’ve even had the person in line behind me offer to let me swipe their card for my purchase, just so I could qualify for the better prices.

There’s always the option of just carrying all of the cards with you. These days, of course, that would seem to require a mini-wheelbarrow to cart all of them around. Certainly my wallet is no match for that task. Aside from the pure weight and volume of the cards, imagine going through all of them each time you check out somewhere, trying to locate the right one. Why, I might as well go back to paying by check. At least during the time it takes for most stores to accept that check, I could probably find the required loyalty card.

I understand loyalty, and I enjoy some nice benefits. I shouldn’t complain. But as soon as someone announces the universal loyalty card, I’m going to be first in line to grab one.

1 comment:

GeoOT said...

There is one now spreading around independent business in the SF Bay Area. See