We Know Better, But Still We Love Loyalty Cards

As we've been discussing on the message board on yesterday's post, Color Me Stupid About Customer Loyalty, giving up our personal data to participate in a customer loyalty card program often isn't the wisest move.

Unfortunately, we're not always at our smartest when in the throes of shopping.

As I mentioned in my blog, the other night I coughed up some personal information to get a loyalty card from a beauty retailer. I'd like to think the request caught me at a weak moment, when I was too tired to think rationally. But truth be told, I have a number of such cards in my wallet -- a couple from nearby grocery stores and others from specialty retailers. Will I ever wise up?

I'd like to be able answer that question with a definitive "YES!" But if I'm being honest, a "probably not" is more likely the answer -- especially since part of me thinks that the damage already has been done. I guess I'll take solace in the fact that I'm not alone. Recent research from SAS (this site's sponsor) and Conlumino, a retail research agency and consulting firm, tells me so.

For the study, "Retail Loyalty and the Consumer," SAS and Conlumino surveyed 2,109 consumers and 100 UK retailers. What they learned is as apropos to what's happening in the US as it is globally, as well as across industries, Wilson Raj, global marketing director of customer intelligence at SAS, told me in a phone interview. And that's this: Just shy of 95 percent of the consumers surveyed said they own at least one loyalty card, with the greatest number of respondents -- 23.4 percent -- owning three.

This isn't a case of sign up and forget, either. At survey time, most consumers said they'd used a loyalty card within the last few days. More than 25 percent had even used one that very day, and 88.2 percent said they use them regularly.

Any shopper knows that retail loyalty cards are ubiquitous, but just how popular they are and how widely used took Neil Saunders, managing director at Conlumino, by surprise. He attributed the high usage rates, in part, to the continued weak economy. "They'll give up their data, and share some information, to get money off," he told me in a separate interview.

What consumers most want out of a loyalty program is pretty simple, the survey showed. They want coupons, those no-brainer ways of saving money. Nearly three quarters of respondents identified coupons as most important to them. On-the-spot discounts and special offers for use at a later date also bubbled to the top of the list -- although at 41.5 percent and 36.4 percent, respectively, a far cry from the 74.1 percent of love going toward coupons.

The survey clearly showed that people have become so used to loyalty card programs that participation has become a non-issue for many of them, Saunders said. Nearly half of respondents -- 46.8 percent -- showed no concern whatsoever about signing up for a loyalty card. Those who did have some niggling doubts broke down along these lines:

  • 34.4 percent worry most about retailers sharing personal information with other companies
  • 27.4 percent fret over receiving unsolicited marketing material or advertising
  • 23.4 percent don't like not knowing how their purchase information might be used
  • 18.7 percent think retailers might know too much about their purchases
  • 14.1 percent worry that signing up will mean they will receive too many letters or emails from the retailer

To this latter point, consider, too, that the research shows nearly 40 percent of respondents are OK with opting in to receive marketing material -- but not via text message. Only two percent said they're ready to receive marketing promo via that most modern of means, but give them a year and we might see this change considerably. Thirty percent of the consumers surveyed admitted that they'd be "fairly or highly likely to take advantage of a relevant offer direct to a mobile phone while they’re in store."

Shoppers want deals, and figure that trading off some basic facts about themselves is worth getting that 20 percent off coupon to buy themselves a little something special on their birthdays. The promise of value pricing, it seems, might not carry enough sway over consumers who have come to associate discounts with loyalty cards.

So do share -- how many loyalty cards do you have in your wallet? And what's been your criteria for signing up for one? Let's talk about this on the message board below... but first, I'm running out for a lunchtime errand. I need some bread and butter, and since I'm just $43.12 shy of reaching the $650 spending target that's gonna get me a one percent reward discount for my qualified purchases, maybe I'll pick up a few other items as well!

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Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

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Re: Hate them
  • 9/28/2013 8:26:10 PM

Beth, that kind of selectivity may be standard practices with some discount programs. There's a BP near me that is part of a truck stop - The Standard BP discount card I have can not be used at the pump dispite being BP gas. 

Re: Hate them
  • 9/27/2013 11:01:52 PM

@beth it does apply! I was sent to checkout at Starbucks when many lines were full. My receipt said Target and I scanned my card on a target card scanner.

Re: Hate them
  • 9/27/2013 12:51:09 PM

That is a good question, It works at the snack bar where they have the pretzels, but I never tried at one of the in-store Starbucks. Let me know if it works!!!!

Re: Hate them
  • 9/27/2013 11:41:14 AM

There's a Starbuck's in my local Target. But, dang, I don't think the 5% discount applies there. 

Re: Hate them
  • 9/27/2013 10:42:38 AM

I'd finally signed up for one because of the debit option -- since I was always paying with my bank debit card anyways, I figured I might as well get the 5% discount. But oh do I get mad at myself when I forget to pay with the red card!

Re: Lithuanian Cheesehound
  • 9/27/2013 10:40:37 AM

You would have thought something like this would have originated in Wisconsin, with all those cheeseheads!

Re: Hate them
  • 9/27/2013 1:33:49 AM


I just assume that everything a retailer do is to captuer data and use it to sell me more things, so that doesnt bother me. 

Re: Hate them
  • 9/26/2013 11:22:28 PM

@Beth I have a red card too but haven't used it for discounts in a long time. I wish Target would get on board with a regular loyalty card. I tend to forget to pay the card on time so it's easier for me just to keep the balance at zero. I know they have a debit card program that tracks purchases through your debit card to give you discounts but I don't want to sign up for that one.

Re: Hate them
  • 9/26/2013 2:51:34 PM

Just another way of collecting "Big Data" without ever giving the customer a "real incentive" for using it.

Re: Lithuanian Cheesehound
  • 9/26/2013 1:57:05 PM

It's a Boston-based chain: http://www.cheeseboy.com

There are two particularly convenient locations: South Station (where my train arrives), and 280 Washington St., which is right around the corner from my office!

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