The lie at the heart of “loyalty” cards

I’ve always been opposed to brand “loyalty” card schemes, like Nectar and Tesco’s Clubcard, and I’ve never signed up for any. We all know that they’re used to track customer shopping behaviour, and I don’t want to be tracked in that way. But it was only recently that I was struck by the fundamental dishonesty involved.

The story promoted by companies running the schemes is something like this: each time you shop with us, we’ll give you a tiny discount, but it’s only redeemable in discreet chunks, and we think this will give you an incentive to continue shopping with us instead of our competitors. In other words: we’ll trade you a non-binding increase in the probability that you’ll choose us for future shopping, which we think is worth two or three pence in every pound, in exchange for rewards equivalent to, say, one pence per pound.

The flaw in this story is that carrying a “loyalty” card doesn’t increase a customer’s chance of using the same shop on any future occasion. As far as I can tell, there are two types of people: those who don’t use any “loyalty” schemes (like me), and those who use every “loyalty” scheme going, and carry around a purse stuffed with cards so that they can get points and discounts wherever they happen to shop.

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