The International Writers Magazine:What's in your wallet?
us your loyalty!
Just how loyal are reward cards to the public?
On paper, the premise
sounds too good to be true one simple bit of plastic carried
in your wallet entitles you to hundreds of pounds off what you spend
every year, plus great offers not available to non-card holders. Whether
its a supermarket club card or a retail reward card, these so-called
loyalty cards are everywhere.
The question on many peoples lips at the moment though, is just
how loyal is this system to the consumer? What many people dont
realise when they sign up for the scheme though, is just how much personal
information is gathered by the company from your application. If you
stopped to think for one minute about the sort of details these companies
ask you for, maybe not all of us would be so quick to reap the rewards.
For instance, when you sign up for a Boots Advantage Card, the
company instantly knows who you are, where you live, how many children
you have and whether or not you wear glasses or contact lenses. Ever
wondered just how those offers you get through the post are tailor made
for you? Think back to the day you signed up for the card just
how much about your life have you inadvertently revealed?
So just what are the benefits of these club card schemes for the retailer?
Studies showed that a year after Tesco released their club card, customers
were spending an extra 28% in store. It would appear that the appeal
of reward points and offers available to those with the club card proved
a big pull to customers. So there is part of your answer the
club card provides benefits for all.
Or does it? A delve deeper into the purpose of these loyalty cards reveals
that they know a hell of a lot more about us than we know. Once upon
a time, customer loyalty was gained through advertising to the masses,
but why use that now when these giants of retail can target the individual?
Every time you shop using your loyalty card, what you have purchased
and how you paid for it is stored on a database. The database now has
a record of where you live, your spending habits and the seemingly inane
details you filled in when applying for the card.
Welcome to the world of consumer tracking. Right now, the data of every
card-holding shopper in Britain is being scrutinised for patterns, information
about spending and customer preferences. They know what types of food
you eat, what you bought yourself to relax in the bath last Thursday
list is endless. To put it simply, your lifestyle is under the microscope
every time they ask you, "do you have a reward card?"
This is indeed genius. How better to sell your product to a consumer,
than to find out exactly what they like? The retailer even knows how
best to target you by highlighting the needs you have and how their
product fulfils that. Not only can they provide you with enticing offers
to draw you into their door rather than their rivals, but they can specifically
target their product at you. One consumer may prefer the cleaning properties
of the new Fairy washing up liquid, while you like the smell. Whatever
the preference, from your spending habits, they know how to bag that
vital sell. They can recommend the products they know youll like
and offer hundreds of points added onto your reward card as a final
The information doesnt stop with the retailer. Your data is then
sold on to manufacturers, unwittingly entering you into market research
that will determine which of their products are good and which are bad.
Not a very sinister thought, but who else has your lifestyle information?
On paper, it doesnt sound like the worst thing in the world. So
Tesco knows that you bought muffins last Wednesday and that you prefer
cotton socks to any other material
who cares about inane things
like that? The fact is though, that this form of consumer tracking is
just one of the ways that we are being watched as we go about our daily
lives. Not even our shopping habits are sacred now. How else would Amazon
know that customers who bought x also bought y?
Whilst appearing to offer us the best deals around, the club card is
taking a note of everything we purchase and using the information against
us in the effort to persuade us where to shop. Surely thats an
attempted manipulation of our free will? This may be a little extreme
for the humble reward card, but where is this going to end up? Already
the government can monitor where we go, with the introduction of the
travellers Oyster card. It saves the consumer money on their journey
in return for them giving the database information on where they go
and for how long.
They may make our lives just that little bit luxurious, but in the end
is it worth it to feel like were being watched with every swipe
of the card?
© Louise Powell Nov 16th 2005
Louise is a first year Creative Arts student at the University of Portsmouth
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