The International Writers Magazine
:What's in your wallet?

Show us your loyalty!
Louise Powell

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 it’s a supermarket club card or a retail reward card, these so-called loyalty cards are everywhere.

The question on many people’s lips at the moment though, is just how loyal is this system to the consumer? What many people don’t 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…the 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 you’ll like and offer hundreds of points added onto your reward card as a final incentive.
The information doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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 that’s 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 traveller’s 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 we’re 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

More Comment here


© Hackwriters 1999-2005 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.