Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 9, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

LOYALTY CARDS....I really loathe retail loyalty card programs. Really really really. Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Maybe I should write this up as an op-ed and see if anyone wants to print it. Perhaps I'm not the only one.

Kevin Drum 8:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

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Comments

Especially if, like Costco, Barnes and Noble or The Body Shop, they make you pay for it. I simply refuse to shop there. If it's free, like Borders, then I will tolerate it -- but I still don't like it.

Posted by: Scott on May 9, 2008 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

First? I don't like them either. My Barnes and Noble card expired and I don't care. My favorite convenience store now bugs me about whether I've got my Kickback bonus points card with me. They've got to hate being forced to ask me every time.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 9, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

It's a good thing nobody is requiring you to use them, then.

Posted by: Al on May 9, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

You must resist the temptation and leave that to Andy Rooney. There are many more things of much greater import to write about.

Posted by: gregor on May 9, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

I hate them too.

And the coercion is sinister.

If you don't get the card, then you will get asked ... every single time you enter the store ... whether you want one. The only way to shut them up is to cave in and get one.

I have been asked about 1 billion times at Petsmart if I want their freakin' card, and at this point, i just want to scream at the cashier, except that she is getting paid poorly, and she is just doing it out of fear of the secret shoppers, so I don't. But I want to.

Summary: hate

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on May 9, 2008 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

I don't like them much either Kevin, but you'd basically have to write an entire op-ed complaining about price discimination.

Posted by: Joel W on May 9, 2008 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

...but all those cookies on your hard drives are just fine?

Posted by: Mark L. on May 9, 2008 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

You are not alone. That said, I find them more of a mild inconvenience than an object of loathing.

Posted by: david (b) hayes on May 9, 2008 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

I know. I wish they'd just get to the retinal scan at the entry door already.

Posted by: B on May 9, 2008 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

Just for laughs I highly recommend the book Jennifer Government. It's a quick-read, near future satire which among other things illustrates an absurd extreme to which loyalty programs could go.

Posted by: thepixelsuite on May 9, 2008 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

i hate them too. price driscimination, privacy, and all that. but, when i complained to Ralph's recently, that i always loose those $9 pet food coupons that they give you on your receipt after you buy a hundred dollars worth, they recalculated my pet food purchases over the last (maybe 20 years) who knows how long they've been keeping track, and gave me 100 coupons for $9. not nothing.

Posted by: brkily on May 9, 2008 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

I always decline them with the line "I don't want to be in Dick Cheney's database." I usually get agreement.

Posted by: lahke on May 9, 2008 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

As do I. But my response it to always lie on the application forms, and thereby pollute their databases.

Posted by: sean on May 9, 2008 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

One supermarket in my area, Albertsons, has done away with loyalty cards. I shop there exclusively, even though it's a mile farther up the road than the nearest supermarket.

They're just one more way to harvest my personal date, therefore I own no loyalty cards.

Posted by: Jim in AZ on May 9, 2008 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

There is a simple solution to this. Don't use your real name, address, and phone number. Or have a cooperative loyalty card with a large group of friends under a fake name. I use Guy Fawkes.

Posted by: not my real name on May 9, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

If you aren't worried about loyalty cards, you might want to read this article. A guy slipped on spilled yogurt in a Vons grocery store and broke his kneecap, and the "mediator" threatened to use his liquor purchases, recorded on his Vons card against him.

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 9, 2008 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know what the arguments against them are, but as long the stores don't make you pay for them, you should get the card. It's easier than clipping coupons. If you don't pay attention to money much, you may not even realize that you're not getting any of the discounts you see posted because you never signed up to get the card.

Posted by: Swan on May 9, 2008 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

When we have dominionists trying to infiltrate our governments, Bushies trying to scrap federal regulatory agencies, Republicans infiltrating the media and trying to intimidate or fool our voters from voting, we Democrats and liberals need every advantage and edge we can get in this country to make sure Republicans do not consolidate their power. Part of that is economics and psychology.

I'd hate to think of a lot of liberals out there not saving as much money or have to do with less than some rabid Republicans because they think there is some principled stand on which they should not get the card. In my household, our various supermarket cards probably save us $1,000 on groceries per year.

Posted by: Swan on May 9, 2008 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

The grocery clerk is usually willing to swipe the store Discount Card if you ask.

Posted by: absent observer on May 9, 2008 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's annoying to have to keep the card in my wallet. I've already got enough junk in there.

Posted by: flubber on May 9, 2008 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe there are privacy issues with signing up for a card, but that should be fought on a different front than depriving yourself and your family of the savings. If you're just trying to make ends meet and the dicky Republican kid who lives down the street (and who is going to be causing trouble for your liberal kid and arguing with him all throughout their time in the local public schools) is able to buy hockey equipment for him, but you can't for your kid, it could be that $1,000 a year you save with the card that makes the difference. Stuff like that contributes to influencing who ends up feeling loved by the time he's 18, and who starts using drugs and all that, etc.

Posted by: Swan on May 9, 2008 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

I too am completely unaware of the reason for not getting one of these cards, but please listen to my strong opinion. Blah, blah. Blah. Blah blah. Blah blah, blah.

Posted by: absent observer on May 9, 2008 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

At various times I've dealt with loyalty cards in four different ways: ignored them (costing myself a bit of money); signed up for them; asked cashiers or people in line to use their own cards on my behalf; and traded my card with someone else's. I think the last is best.

Posted by: RSA on May 9, 2008 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

I hate them, too. It's nobody else's damn business what I buy at the grocery store.

Used to give sanctimonious speeches when cashiers tried to talk me into getting one--"It's free"! "No, there's a very high price--you keep track of everything I buy." One cashier insisted they kept track of nothing.

Now I seem to have perfected the tone in which to say "No, thank you," to the inevitable "Do you want one?" question--no one tries to talk me into it anymore. If someone passes theirs to the cashier to use, I like the idea that I'm messing up the database, but I never ask--I figure paying more is a kind of (pale) analogue to accepting the penalty for civil disobedience.

Posted by: Ohioan on May 9, 2008 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

While you're at it, you could write an op-ed railing against the penny.

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on May 9, 2008 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

I like the penny idea. Mine end up in the garbage.

Posted by: absent observer on May 9, 2008 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah! An Op-Ed against loyalty cards, George Bush, global warming, big cars, people who beat their dogs, people who beat their cats, cable news, cable, TV, shoddy internet bandwidth, and lousy blog commentors!

Then you'll only have 500 words to go!

max
['And bad language! To fuckin' hell with the goddamn bad language already!']

Posted by: max on May 9, 2008 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK

I have one for Borders. It's the small version that has a hole in it so that I can sport it on my keychain. Instead it's tucked into a corner of my wallet. I'm a book fiend, so it makes sense to put up with it. Still don't like it. My supermarket started an affinity card program a few years ago and I had to go through months of saying "No, thank you" until they got the message. Then they cracked and started giving me the affinity discount without insisting on my carrying the card. Not sure why the management decided it was okay to treat a regular customer like a regular customer even if he wouldn't agree to be tagged like a migrating elk. It has increased my loyalty, though.

Posted by: Zeno on May 9, 2008 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

Cards for grocery stores are less annoying than cards for drug stores. CVS can bite me -- especially when there's a non-card-requiring Walgreens two blocks away from every CVS.

Also, I have it on good authority that the majority of retailers don't even have any way to process and use the data they're collecting with those loyalty cards.

Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog on May 9, 2008 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

Is a store discount card the same as a loyalty card? If so, I gotta say I have probably saved hundreds of dollars in the last year alone using cards at the grocery store, two local sporting goods stores and a cycle shop. Only the cycle shop card had a fee but I've already saved 20 times the cost of the card off purchases I made.

When I see sales at the grocery store for $3 quarts of strawberries like I did today (normally around $6) I like to think their computer tracking of my purchases is working. They seem to know my neighbors and I like fresh strawberries in May. I don't see that as a bad thing. Among other things it tells growers how much to plant, so it can help farmers plan better.

On the other hand, if they were tracking the library books I checked out or the phone calls I made and handing the lists over to Dick Cheney that would upset me. A lot.

God, I can't wait till he's gone.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on May 9, 2008 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

think it's annoying to have to keep the card in my wallet. I've already got enough junk in there.

I'm with flubber. It's another idea that used by one or two stores works but when used by every place you go becomes more bother than it's worth. Here in Tokyo most coffee shops have loyalty cards. I could carry around twenty or thirty coffee shop loyalty cards alone (... um, not that I spend that much time in coffee shops or anything)

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 9, 2008 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Wednesday I bought $1320 in Kroger gift cards for $1200.I paid for them with my AmX Blue card which gives me 5% back($60).This is $180 more than when I walked in.Wedneday was Senior's day with 10% off.I bought about $120(almost all sale items) at 25% off and had about $12 in coupons.I went to the counter and bought 4 season tickets for our local 6 Flags which are $39.95 each for $4 less each($16).I left and went to the Kroger gas pumps($3.61 gal) used my Kroger Plus Card and got .10 per gal off,paid with my gift card and paid under $3.00 a gal for about 10 gal.I saved $60+ for the trip.Total time spent maybe 2 minutes to buy the gift cards,2 minutes to buy the season tickets and 5 sec to insert my Kroger card into the pump. A drop in the bucket to some,but a decent deal for me because I would have spent the same money and not saved without using the Kroger card.Of course I will continue to save money using the gift cards on food and gas.

Posted by: R.L. on May 9, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

I love 'em. Love 'em. Love 'em. Love 'em. I have loyalty cards on my keychain for stores I live 3,000 miles away from. I get angry if one store accepts them but some other store doesn't (my favorite Korean market only the "super" version accepts the card. How annoying!)

I love feeling like I'm part of their little club.

And as far as privacy goes, I actually don't care. It's a dated concept. My data should be out there to be mined as companies see fit. I seriously believe that. It's why I do as many online surveys as I can. I think we all benefit.

BUT, if you are a freak about that stuff. NOTHING, says you have to give the correct information to sign up for a loyalty card. Zero, zip, zilch. In fact, I have a Safeway card that I've never bothered to update. (I don't even know where the card is anymore. So I just enter a telephone number, for an apartment I lived in 6 years ago, in a city and state on the other side of the country. And you know what? It works.)


Posted by: Christopher on May 9, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Totally with you Kevin. Up here Safeway especially does a trick where the prices on about 1/3 of the staples are set *higher* than normal, by a lot, unless you get the "member discount". Ie, they barely even pretend they're getting you a loyalty deal. It's a fine for not surrendering to their program.

The way around these programs, I've found, is to claim you've lost the card while the clerk is busy. They'll usually give you a new one on the spot with no more than a fake phone number, so they know your habits but not who you are.

I don't even sign up for airmiles. It's nothing more than a program to link their databases - may as well give them all your sin number. I'll swallow the lost "bonuses", thanks. F@$kers.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on May 9, 2008 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

damn, kevin, since when does anybody supply honest info for their forms?

just give them fake name and address and the main number for the white house and be done with it.

Posted by: Auto on May 9, 2008 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

Giant Eagle grocery stores in Cleveland also own their own gas stations, and for every fifty bucks you spend you get a dime of the per gallon gas price at their stations. When gas is running $3.75 a gallon, being able to get it for $2.75 a gallon is not bad at all. Their grocery prices aren't the greatest, but they aren't the worst either so I can cope with it. On the other hand, when stores want me to pay for a card, that's where I draw the line.

Posted by: AndrewBW on May 9, 2008 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

Zeno>...treat a regular customer like a regular customer even if he wouldn't agree to be tagged like a migrating elk...

Ding. That's why its offensive. It makes me feel like a herd animal with some head-up-ass rancher keeping an eye on me. It may be the truth about humanity, but it still feels rotten.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on May 9, 2008 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

With you. Here's a podcsst I did a couple of years ago about grocery store loyalty cards. Hate 'em http://www.canofun.com/swffiles/podcasts/grocerystorecardangst.mp3

Posted by: salon on May 9, 2008 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

I figured out twenty years ago at Gristedes in Manhattan that these cards were just an invasive swindle. No one needs to know your name or track your every purchase. These cards are an inconvenience and an affront.

(And if you don't have a pre-existing credit rating, you're subhuman and unworthy of their stupid cards. I suppose they'd say, "Well, if you don't have a credit card, will you please give us one of your personal checks marked 'void'?")

It reminds me of the time when a cashier at a paint store in Houston screwed up my order and started demanding my name and home address and home phone number before he'd give me back the money that he'd just incorrectly taken from me. I refused, and I think he just made up my information in order to satisfy their "protocols" for "reimbursements." PEA-BRAINED.

Posted by: Anon on May 9, 2008 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

I don't use the loyalty cards*, but I don't mind them so much as the snotty attitude of the assistant manager at the Safeway near my work.
"Do you have a Safeway card?"
"No."
"Do you want one?" (shocked attitude that I don't have one of his store's cards.)
"No, thanks."
"You'd save X today if you had a Safeway card." (slight veneer of contempt that I could be such a fool as to not want to save money at his store.)
"I don't want one."
When he rips the receipt off the cash register, he circles an amount on the receipt.
"This is what you would have saved with a Safeway card." (you F-ing idiot)

Every. Single. Time. If it wasn't the only grocery store within walking distance of work, I would never go there. (I don't have a car.) I have noticed that the regular cashiers don't push it as hard. They have to ask, but they don't really give a damn if I have one or not. It makes me wonder why the assistant manager tries to sell it so much. What are they using that data for?

In any case, if you do have a Safeway card, and don't want them tracking your purchases, then here ya go:
http://www.cockeyed.com/pranks/safeway/ultimate_shopper.html

*And I won't take the loyalty oath.

Posted by: josef on May 9, 2008 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

According to all my loyalty cards, I've been living on 123 Fake Street (h/t The Simpsons) for years. It works well.

Posted by: emjaybee on May 9, 2008 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

If you use your own credit card I sort of doubt all the fake names and addresses trick the computers. Ask the ultimate shopper if you can borrow his.

Posted by: B on May 9, 2008 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

I always fake a name. Hate the darn things. But you have to have one to get the regular prices -- they inflate prices if you don't and pretend you are getting a discount.

They are like coupons which are a fascist plot to make women feel they are clever and resourceful and 'contributing' by clipping coupons and jumping through demeaning hoops.

The whole thing is creepy minnie mouse stuff. So yeah -- I'm with you.

Posted by: artemesia on May 9, 2008 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, don't tell me you put down real information when you apply for one of those.

>Helloooooooo???

Second, if you use a debit card at the checkout, your grocery store already has the goods on you anyway.

>Helloooooooo???

Joe Buck, if the guy bought his Von's liquor with a debit card, and probably with a credit card, even without a loyalty card, Von's would know. Doesn't excuse the Hitlerian "mediator," but Von's would know, anyway.

>Helloooooooo???

Ohio, ditto for your comments.

Max, great snark about this inane post.

And Borders? Geez... Amazon is cheaper than BOTH Borders and B&N, no card needed. I mean, seriously, who buys books at a bookstore anymore?

Kevin, a late, but gaining at the third furlong, entrant for worst post of the week.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 9, 2008 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

quote Is a store discount card the same as a loyalty card? If so, I gotta say I have probably saved hundreds of dollars in the last year alone using cards at the grocery store unquote

you poor schlub -- you are 'saving' because the store jacks up the prices for people who don't have cards -- yeah you may have to have one or pay more -- but these are not 'savings' -- these are bending over to those manipulating you and then crowing about your 'savings' ---

Posted by: artemesia on May 9, 2008 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

Just give them a false name and address and pay cash.

Posted by: Eli Rabett on May 9, 2008 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

I hate them too but hate paying more for the same item. So I collect them and put all 300 of them on a big keychain that I toss onto the counter and let the poor checker sort through the lot.

Posted by: bakho on May 10, 2008 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

Just to be a little less subtle about it, and to confirm any suspicions you may have about Kevin's not staking out any reasons (which could be discussed and weigh, or which he could be asked to defend or explain) for his opinion-- this is one of Kevin's worse posts.

Right up alongside the one about cereal-box lids, and the one asking his readers whether they close the door to the bathroom when you use if you are home alone. I am not kidding, I did not make this up- Kevin actually posted posts that were like God-sends to people who would like to point at a liberal blog as an example what fools we all are. If you don't like it, you should send him an e-mail so he figures out which posts they are- don't be shy, because he's sure to get piles of e-mail from raiders, too.

Posted by: Swan on May 10, 2008 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

As for the comment at 11:43, I regularly get the dirt-cheap deals with the card-- it's not manipulation into buying at a "normal" price, and it's no different from when you had to clip and save coupons. It's not a scam to offer sale prices to induce people to become one-time or repeat customers. I'm not sure how your alleged "jacking up the price on people" scheme would work.

Posted by: Swan on May 10, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

I also don't know about this claim about having to have 300 of these. My family has about three- they were each completely free, and each for a big-chain supermarket.

Posted by: Swan on May 10, 2008 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, some bonus scatblogging — let’s name a sewer plant after Bush!

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 10, 2008 at 12:18 AM | PERMALINK

When you see items at grocery stores consistently "discounted" 10-30% for cardholders--with a net price about what would be considered reasonable retail--it should be obvious that the programs have nothing to do with rewarding customer loyalty.

Posted by: has407 on May 10, 2008 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Von's Mediator:
You know, you could have an accident too. Funny thing about accidents is that you can never predict when misfortune could befall you. You're not immune. It could be soon, or years from now, and suddenly you find yourself at the mercy of some heartless paid shark.

Posted by: Krusher on May 10, 2008 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

I have for several years been using the Safeway card of a relative who died. I'm sure she would be very happy to know she lives on in this way!

Posted by: jhill on May 10, 2008 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

has407, there are many good products that go down to 50% or less of what you'd be willing to pay retail on the card. I'm not talking about what George Bush or Dan Quayle or John McCain thinks the retail prices of groceries are-- I'm talking about a $1 regular-size bottle of name-brand spaghetti sauce (or ketchup, or mustard, or salad dressing...), a $1 box of name-brand croutons, and similar deals for things like toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, other toiletries, frozen food... it goes on and on. Places put lots of items on sale for narrow discounts, but if you look, you can find many items every week that make looking for the sale prices worth your while- like I said above, in the range of at least $1000 a year, depending on how big your family is.

Posted by: Swan on May 10, 2008 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

Swan: I'm not sure how your alleged "jacking up the price on people" scheme would work.

The scam is as old as dirt, and the FTC et. al. has been chasing them since forever...
Day 1..N: $10. Day N+1: $20. Day N+2: $10! SALE! 50% OFF!

The "loyalty card discount" scam works much the same way. Inflate the hell out of the price for non-cardholders, then "discount" it back to the normal price for cardholders. (NB: Loyalty card programs differ from the classic scam in execution--which is why the FTC hasn't hauled anyone into court--but the result is pretty much the same.)

That doesn't mean there isn't money to be saved by shopping smartly, or that there aren't some accrued benefits from some loyalty cards (miles, gas discounts, whatever). But the idea that those cards provide any true discount over what would be considered normal retail price is ridiculous.

Posted by: has407 on May 10, 2008 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

I signed up for my Ralph's card using the name ClarkKissinger. No, not that ClarkKissinger, another one.

Posted by: The annoying LonewackoDotCom on May 10, 2008 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

This is why I like being in the military. I get to shop at the commissary, which is already super cheap. Who needs a loyalty card when milk is $2.16 a gallon?

Posted by: guachi on May 10, 2008 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

Has... the buy one get one free is a variant.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 10, 2008 at 1:33 AM | PERMALINK

I agree Kevin, I violently hate them and will go out of my way to avoid them. I'll pay the extra at safeway and endure the lecture, and I don't want a free sandwich, or a free bag of birdseed or a free burrito after so many purchases. My wallet is for me, and I need the space.

I will say that our local grocery store started them and so many people complained with every purchase that they eventually gave up on the idea. I do think its a great topic for an article, and it really affects people.

Posted by: Shrink in SF on May 10, 2008 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody have a credit card?

Posted by: Steve-O on May 10, 2008 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly -- Yeah, the two-for-one scam is alive and well. I noticed at the local Safeway that they have had several two-for-one's, but only for cardholders. As far as I can tell, the same "promotions" have been going on for almost a month. (I think it was Marie Calendar, or Charmin, or Draino. Or maybe it was some all-in-one combination... eat, shit, and clear, all in one conveniently discounted package).

Posted by: has407 on May 10, 2008 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

Swan -- OK, I too shop for toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, and other toiletries. But for spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, croûtons, etc., you should devote less time hunting for bargains in the grocery store and more time in your kitchen. I might forgive store-bought spaghetti sauce on a really really bad day, but salad dressing???? croûtons??? Do you go to the store to buy boiling water?

Posted by: has407 on May 10, 2008 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

Somewhere a ways back (ten years?) Debra Bowen, now the California Sec of State, had a bill in the Cal Legislature to limit what stores could do with the gathered info. I don't know whatever happened to that, but Kevin could maybe use that somehow.

Posted by: Robert Earle on May 10, 2008 at 2:29 AM | PERMALINK

Robert Earle -- That was back around '99, although Bowen--or maybe some others were making noises--in '96-98 IIRC. Relevant article here.

Posted by: has407 on May 10, 2008 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

My cypherpunk friends just sign up for them as often as possible and trade them around at parties. I don't bother, 'cause I just don't care if Safeway knows I buy gin and cat litter.

Posted by: Rich McAllister on May 10, 2008 at 4:14 AM | PERMALINK

If you know what things really cost in other stores, using discount cards can really be useful. frankly, I find it amusing that all the database watchers will know about me is that most of the purchases I buy are the ones that are truly deep discounts. It's stuff that I want and will use, but not buy unless it is a deep discount. But I get a little kick out of leaving the store paying only about 40% of the "regular" prices [which I know are probably 20% too high]. This frequently happens at the local Von's. A lot of the fresh foods I eat can be found for a lot cheaper at the 99cent store, a good and cheap produce/natural foods store [Sunflower] and hispanic markets.

Posted by: natural cynic on May 10, 2008 at 4:47 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure I know what they are, but I am just a gullible, American middle class twit who will buy anything.

Posted by: A Friend in Telemarketing on May 10, 2008 at 6:19 AM | PERMALINK

"I really loathe retail loyalty card programs. Really really really. "

So does Andy Rooney. Must be a trend.

Posted by: brucds on May 10, 2008 at 6:46 AM | PERMALINK

why is it that trader joes is WAY CHEAPER THAN EVERY OTHER GROCERY STORE AND HAS NO STUPID "CLUB" THAT YOU HAVE TO JOIN? sorry for shouting.

a quart of milk at trader joe's is still $1.19. how much is it at your "loyalty club" market?

i HATE those stupid club cards. it's just a way for the stores to avoid having to charge sale prices to ALL of the customers. and it's a shell game; every discount that thay give is offset by a higher price charged for something else in the store. if you think that the store is somehow making less money off you because of those "club cards," you are naive.

the stores are charging just as much money for the stuff as they ever did. get a fricken CLUE.

again, sorry for shouting.

Posted by: neal N DA LBC on May 10, 2008 at 7:19 AM | PERMALINK

I just don't care if Safeway knows I buy gin and cat litter.
Posted by: Rich McAllister

Me, too. But you're on the list anyway.

Posted by: dick cheney on May 10, 2008 at 7:28 AM | PERMALINK

This is why I like being in the military. I get to shop at the commissary, which is already super cheap. Who needs a loyalty card when milk is $2.16 a gallon?

You can pay with cash without flashing a card? Note to Pentagon: There appears to be critical information you are not collecting.

Posted by: B on May 10, 2008 at 7:31 AM | PERMALINK

When I joined the military many decades ago I signed a loyality OATH; but I never got a loyalty CARD.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on May 10, 2008 at 7:50 AM | PERMALINK

I am a mariner, I have a license, a TWIC (transportation workers id card) card, a passport, a STCW (standard training cert watchkeeping) and a MMD (merchant mariners document), a vessel issued ID card plus of course a driver license, credit cards etc - why can't I just get a single chip in my head, they could scan it at the grocery store as well.

Posted by: Maniac on May 10, 2008 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

I don't like them, but no one forces you to use them. If you do decide to use them, you can fake your personal information so that they don't know who you really are.

If you are at a store that provides benefits for a card and you don't have that card, just say you left it in your car. Almost every cashier station has a general use card that they can scan. They'd rather do that than wait for you to go get your card.

Posted by: Silly David on May 10, 2008 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

Does Kevin's definition include Costco? I find my Costco card to be the one card that replaces all other loyalty cards. I supplement with farmer's market, Trader Joe's, and Asian (particularly Korean) supermarkets. I really don't see the point of going to a conventional supermarket unless there were absolutely no alternatives.

Posted by: anon on May 10, 2008 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

I really can't stomach the choice of paying more for something just because I don't have the card. I don't write checks, so I just made up information to get my Price Chopper loyalty card, but for every $50 I spend there, I get .10 a gallon off my gas. I recently got gas for 2.97 because I had spent $200 at Price Chopper in the preceeding month. You can only get 20 gallons at that price, but my car is small and fills up at 12, so I got almost 2 fill-ups for that price. It's worth it to me.

Posted by: maurinsky on May 10, 2008 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

I have one for the two grocery chains nearest my house. I'm selling them information about my buying habits for about 5% of my grocery bill. That's better than someone selling information about me without giving me a cut.

Even if I didn't, paying by credit card is just as bad, and I'm certainly not going to carry enough cash with me all the time to pay the grocery bills in this house.

Of course anyone why buys, oh, rolling papers, sex toys, or hookers any way except cash is dumb, dumb, dumb. Look what happened to Jerry Springer.

Posted by: anandine on May 10, 2008 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Some mornings, I forget my "frequent bagler" card. This delays the rest of the line as the clerk has to look up my number.

Posted by: bob somerby on May 10, 2008 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Regardless of whether the prices are jacked up, I'm not going to pay the extremely jacked up prices when I can get them for the moderately jacked up prices. Why pay more?

And I love Trader Joe's, but I don't have one nearby, and even with my discounted gasoline, I will only drive to that Trader Joe's when I have multiple things to do in that area.

Posted by: maurinsky on May 10, 2008 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

I agree 100%. I wrote about my plea for a loyalty program revolt here

Posted by: coyote on May 10, 2008 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

I would boycott stores which do this, but all the grocery stores (for example) do it in my area, and there is a substantial penalty if you don't use the card. I can't carry all those cards around, and I usually forget my card going into the store and have to go back to the car to get it.

There is no benefit to consumers in these cards - this is another example in which "free markets" don't work the way they are supposed to.

Posted by: skeptonomist on May 10, 2008 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Many commenters here don't seem to get it - if all the stores require the cards to for "discounts", and if all consumers have a card, it is just a waste of time, plastic, paper, etc. which increases overall cost of the goods. In fact, any use of the cards increases overall cost.

There is actually a moral issue - is it good if some people (those with cards and the retailers) are allowed to take advantage of others (those without the cards), when the overall cost is increased? The moral principle "what would happen if everybody did it?" should apply.

Posted by: skeptonomist on May 10, 2008 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

As for the comment at 11:43, I regularly get the dirt-cheap deals with the card-- it's not manipulation into buying at a "normal" price, and it's no different from when you had to clip and save coupons. It's not a scam to offer sale prices to induce people to become one-time or repeat customers. I'm not sure how your alleged "jacking up the price on people" scheme would work.
Posted by: Swan

LOL -- you must have sleep walked through much of your life to believe this twaddle -- sure there are sometimes actual savings similar to coupons-- the same kinds of savings that stores used to offer to their customers from time to time except now you have to have their silly card to get them -- but if you were a sentient being when these things were introduced you would be perfectly aware that they jacked up regular prices in order to gull dimbulbs into believing they were getting 'savings'

of course now if you don't have one you get cheated on a regular basis -- so I too have them in fake names -- but I am not preening about my savings but annoyed that I have to jump through this demeaning hoop to get the prices that were normal day to day prices before they instituted all these 'savings' or to get loss leader specials that were once available without the fuss

Posted by: Artemesia on May 10, 2008 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

I dont like not knowing what the card does, so I always ask if they can tell me what I give up in exchange for the card, and then when the clerk says "nothing", I ask them if there is a disclaimer that comes with it (there is). When they clerk wonders why I think "its so important", I remind him/her that he/she would be fired if he/she didnt ask me to sign up....

I also have to take exception to this statement:

"able to buy hockey equipment for him, but you can't for your kid, it could be that $1,000 a year you save with the card that makes the difference. Stuff like that contributes to influencing who ends up feeling loved by the time he's 18, and who starts using drugs and all that, etc."

If your kid feels unloved by you not picking up a couple of newspaper routes to get him equipment for the "right" sport, YOU RAISED YOUR FUCKING KID WRONG DAMMIT!!!!

Kids who are raised in a LOVING environment dont need to have mummy buy stuff to "prove" it.....

Posted by: So on May 10, 2008 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

In my local store the clerks actively have customers borrow cards back and forth if someone can't find theirs. They say they only use the data so they can better track reorders, and it's likely true. I don't get junk mail from them.

Posted by: Scorpio on May 10, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Finally, someone who has affirmed my madness, anger, and yes, loathing of being harrassed and harangued over these stupid cards which I do not carry with me, but have finally resorted to at least giving them my phone number if it makes a difference in the price. I think it is price discrimination against people who can't/won't/not able to play their game. We should file a class action law suit.

I also do not appreciate my purchasing behaviour being tracked by the corporate nannies of Kroger, Giant Eagle etc here in central Ohio.

The End

Posted by: Skip on May 10, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

"Cards for grocery stores are less annoying than cards for drug stores. CVS can bite me -- especially when there's a non-card-requiring Walgreens two blocks away from every CVS.

Also, I have it on good authority that the majority of retailers don't even have any way to process and use the data they're collecting with those loyalty cards."

Ugh, I live in DC where CVS has a near monopoly. I'm not surprised that they can't compile the data properly. The issue with CVS in my area is that they're collecting data on what I buy when what they really need to know is what I would buy if they kept their stores stocked properly. They never have what I need. So they're collecting data rather than doing inventory, and the data is meaningless.

I got my card when it was really busy, and I promised to bring back the completed form but never did. I like the idea of using false info though.

Posted by: Joy on May 10, 2008 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Hate 'em too. Stopped shopping 99% of the time at Safeway when they started them. Then same for Albertson's. At least Fred Meyer's card doesn't affect the prices. Going to Safeway, I never know what I'm going to get charged.

Posted by: K on May 10, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Given the amount of money the stores using the loyalty cards save on market research, I'd want a lot more than the pittance they offer to use them. The grocery chains are the worst though. They demand you provide them with a ton of demographic data so they can track their purchases and sell the data to suppliers and then they offer their customers something like 1% on the value of all of their purchases. Screw'em. Make the discount across the board something like 15% and then the loyalty cards will be worth something. Right now the cards are nothing but chump change for...chumps.

Posted by: PrahaPartizan on May 10, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I like the penny idea. Mine end up in the garbage.
Posted by: absent observer on May 9, 2008 at 9:44 PM

I can give you my P.O. Box number and you can ship them to me instead.

Or, heck, just throw them on the street. Folks like me pick those things up. They're worth money, you know.

Posted by: editor on May 10, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Right up alongside the one about cereal-box lids, and the one asking his readers whether they close the door to the bathroom when you use if you are home alone. I am not kidding, I did not make this up- Kevin actually posted posts that were like God-sends to people who would like to point at a liberal blog as an example what fools we all are. If you don't like it, you should send him an e-mail so he figures out which posts they are- don't be shy, because he's sure to get piles of e-mail from raiders, too.
Posted by: Swan

if kevin posted one-tenth the blather here that you do, i might agree. but he doesn't. and he doesn't spread his nonsense around to seemingly every blog i read. so put a fucking sock in it.

blake

Posted by: blake on May 10, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I hate them, but I will defend them.

They allow merchants to purchase in larger volumes and bring greater efficiency, at the price of a small reinforcement of their monopoly.

Posted by: Matt on May 10, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Attention shoppers:

All Hillco loyalty cards will now be honored at Obamamart.

Posted by: chance on May 10, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

The national ID should incorporate all of the corporate card programs. That way the owners of America will be able to monitor their Americans that much better.

Posted by: Brojo on May 10, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

shopped at Von's this morning, Kevin?

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on May 10, 2008 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

One points out that Wal-Mart doesn't have loyalty cards... ;p

Posted by: Avatar on May 10, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

I went into Walmart once and paid cash for some items. The reciept had my name on it even though I had not given any credit card, check or other ID. They are apparently reading magnetic strips in wallets and purses.

So, Walmart doesnt need, apparently, loyalty cards.

Posted by: on May 10, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

It's spying on you.

If they don't scan me with the store card, I don't buy there again. They can go fuck themselves.

Other than that, I like the cards.

Posted by: bebimbob on May 10, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

In principle, I agree that the cards are evil. But in practical terms, you'll have to pry my Borders card out of my cold, dead hands.

Posted by: thersites on May 10, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Out of about 150 posts, there are alot of people who think they know something about loyalty programs who actually don't...Gather 'round kids, let me 'splain a few things...

As someone on the inside of this industry, I can tell all of you haters first off that you need to brace yourselves for more and more and more. The loyalty thing is not a fad. It's becoming an absolute necessity for retailers (and very soon: others). You think it's bad now? Get ready for stores that won't take your business unless you're a part of the 'club', or won't let you shop unless you use THEIR branded credit card. It's coming.

That's for a few reasons - #1 more retailers are realizing that to compete they have to not only attract the most profitable cusotmers, they have to actively try and ditch their least profitable customers (a hard concept to fathom in the 'customer is always right' world I grew up in). Do you clip coupons obsessively and ONLY buy clearance rack items at Nordstrom? Guess what - they actually don't want you there. You're not profitable to them. Please take your business elsewhere unless you're willing to mix in an occasional full-price item.

The challenge for retailers is that it's not always obvious WHO fits into which segment; it doesn't break down along obvious demographic lines....e.g. some very wealthy people are bargain-shoppers and some not so wealthy people are very profitable because of their buying habits. That's where reason #2 fits in: To accomplish this detailed segmentation, retailers have to know ever more about their customers, and it becomes a real problem if you're not willing to share info with them somehow. Their remedy only makes sense from a business perspective: you WILL pay a 'penalty' for being so stubborn about maintaining privacy. As a business owner, if I have to have only 'good' customers to stay in the black, and I can't be sure whether you're good or bad because you won't share your data with me.....then I have no choice but to charge you more.

Another thing - outside of grocery store-type 'discount cards', loyalty programs actually are NOT a shell game. Retailers typically design and build loyalty programs to incent their most profitable customers to shop more often, and to buy more when they come in to the store. If the programs are well-designed, the less-profitable people won't WANT join - it won't be worth it to them.

For example, the Barnes & Noble program - pay $25 a year for a guaranteed 10% discount. If you know roughly how much you spend at BN in a year, then you know it's either worth it for you to buy in (spend>$250), or not worth it to you(spend

So how do retailers afford to give away that 10% to those members? I assure you, B&N doesn't make any money from charging the $25 fee then hoping people don't use their card. The amount of discount they give away is WAY more than the fee they collect.

As such, they pay for loyalty programs out of their overall profit margin - the idea that the programs are financed by 'the little guy' somehow is silly....as a low-end customer, your $10 in magazine purchases per year don't contribute very much to the net profit. The net profit is made up of purchases from people who join the programs...it's a big circle, see?

So in essence the deal retailers make with you is this: we're willing make just a bit less money on our most profitable shoppers. Those few % points less we net on all the $800/year shoppers is WELL worth it if it keeps them from taking their business to our competitor. You $10 a year jagoffs can do whatever you want to do, shop at Borders if you want to, you're not worth much to us anyway...

So sure, you're giving up a bit of privacy by joining a loyalty program, but the exchange is right there in the open for you to see...it's not some 'trick'...THEY COMPENSATE YOU for it. And if you don't like it, shop somewhere else!! or pay in cash. Because retailers own all the information they collect from your CC purchase - that includes your name & address. And by all means, use a fake name and trade cards around. We've got PhD statisticians and really cool data mining algorithms to figure out who you are and what you're doing whether you like it or not.

Airlines and casinos were way out in front of the loyalty trend (think frequent flyer programs and the discretionary comps system at casinos). Now you can't name 2 airlines that don't do a fre-fly program, and you can't name 1 casino (of any size) that doesn't have a slot club.

Posted by: SSDagg on May 10, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

At the A&P I frequent, the conversation at the checkout counter is literally "do you have card", "no, but my wife does, [1-2 second pause until clerk's finger is on the pad] (XXX) XXX-XXXX". Done. They have no clue whether I'm telling the truth and don't care as long as the phone number is that of a card holder.


Posted by: Bill Arnold on May 10, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I received a blank card and never provided any information at a local national chain supermarket. Since the popularizing of 'farmers markets' produce oriented stores like Sprouts, I visit the supermarkets less. No card necessary at Sprouts or TJ's.

Posted by: Brojo on May 10, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Hate 'em, and I tell the clerks I hate the things too, and they're pretty sick of hearing about it and tend to agree with me. My cards are blank, as they were quickly handed over replacements for 'lost' cards with no paperwork filled out.

Also hate being asked for my zip code and phone number at some shops (like ToysRUs) as well.

Posted by: TomStewart on May 10, 2008 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Is there a reason you hate them?

Indeed they track your purchasing habits - but they pay you for that information in the form of a discount.

Those that don't provide that tracking service to the store don't get the discount. I don't understand what's so sinister about it.

Knowledge about client behavior is a valuable commodity for stores; I'm happy they pay those who provide them with the information.

Posted by: jackifus on May 10, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Do you clip coupons obsessively and ONLY buy clearance rack items at Nordstrom? Guess what - they actually don't want you there. You're not profitable to them. Please take your business elsewhere unless you're willing to mix in an occasional full-price item."

I find this difficult to believe. Stores like Nordstroms charge, what, a 300% markup? When you buy on sale, they're still getting a hefty markup. Are you saying they'd rather let clothes just hang there rather than have people buy it on sale? If so, why put it on sale? Why not just sell it to Filene's basement?

"Knowledge about client behavior is a valuable commodity for stores; I'm happy they pay those who provide them with the information."

I'd love to see some proof that they're using it well. As I already said, the only store I shop in that has a loyalty card is CVS, they never have what I want, so they're getting bad information if they're tracking what I buy instead of what I would buy if they stocked their stores properly. Their inventory has declined significantly since they started with the cards.

Posted by: Joy on May 10, 2008 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Airlines and casinos were way out in front of the loyalty trend (think frequent flyer programs and the discretionary comps system at casinos). Now you can't name 2 airlines that don't do a fre-fly program."

And aren't most airlines pretty much struggling to stay afloat? So surely, all other businesses should follow their lead.

Posted by: Joy on May 10, 2008 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

SSDaug -- I buy all my clothes from thrift stores.
Again, I buy my books from either Amazon or Half Price.
I also have no loyalty to a particular store. Every Wednesday, I look at the circulars for Kroger, Tom Thumb (Safeway nameplate in N. Texas) and Albertson's, as well as local chain Minyard's. I buy quite rationally.
Of course, I get a lot at Whole Foods and Central Market.

Has -- the one I hate the most is, buy 10 items to get 2 free, the latest fad.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 10, 2008 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

My local food coop asks for my member number on every trip, for the member discount and for the annual coop profit return (runs only about $12.00 for us), and I'm fine with that.
I also signed up for a CVS card, I lead an un exciting life -- data mining me would be I think pretty boring and certainly wouldn't compare with my file from the 60s anti-war days, and I just can't get too worried about what CVS is going to do with my candy bar and calcium tablets purchase patterns...

Posted by: elisabeth on May 10, 2008 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

This is a good reason to shop at Wal-Mart.

Posted by: Millie on May 10, 2008 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

SSDagg: ...it's not some 'trick'...THEY COMPENSATE YOU for it

Yes, there can be benefits for both merchants and consumers. However, compensation is not the same as benefit or value. Such false equivalence is particularly apparent at some grocery stores; e.g., see here. Some of the information is dated (and no longer online), but those practices are still very much alive and well.

Posted by: has407 on May 10, 2008 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

There are, of course, two concerns: privacy and having a wallet that's 12 months pregnant. What I do for the latter is to cut the UPC, customer #, whatever out of the card and then stick it to one of my credit cards with a small piece of shipping tape, amking sure not to put it in a place that will interfere with the magstripe, etc.

Posted by: Stewart Dean on May 10, 2008 at 9:47 PM | PERMALINK

Let's point out that all grocery stores are going to have sale items here and there as part of their normal marketing routine. "Advertised specials" aren't part of the card compensation, they're the supermarket trying to get you to come in the door there to make your grocery run, hopefully buying lots of other stuff with a better profit margin.

The data-tracking cards aren't terribly onerous, usually because you can ask for one and get provided a working card on the spot, without going through all the providing of personal information. It's just inconvenient to carry a bunch of them around, which is essentially the point - the supermarkets don't want you to oscillate between a bunch of stores looking for the biggest bargain, they want you to pick them and stick with them. In a sense, the customer who comes in and only buys the advertised specials is one you don't mind driving off - they're not making you money.

I'm surprised that the stores that don't use cards don't rip into the ones that do in advertising - it wouldn't take too much to take a Kroger receipt saying "you saved $40!" and compare it to your store's "low everyday prices", showing that they didn't save anything at all, without the 1984-style crap.

They're obviously not inevitable. Wal-Mart doesn't use 'em; they compete by having a distribution system that goes beyond ruthless and into some kind of dystopian bargain-hunting machine collective, not by pumping you for personal information. If they were necessary, do you think that Wal-Mart would refuse to do it out of -principle-? (snerk)

Posted by: Avatar on May 10, 2008 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

I noticed that Albertson's supermarket got rid of its card when it went back to being Lucky.

So all of you California folks who hate the cards should dump Safeway and start shopping Lucky, if you want to make a difference.

By the way, the cards don't bother me anywhere near as much as Safeway's making its checkers thank me by name when I pay with a card that has my name on it. At one in the morning, I don't want to be greeted by name by a strange man--it creeps me out.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on May 11, 2008 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

dear SSDagg on May 10, 2008 at 3:37 PM,

"Out of about 150 posts, there are alot of people who think they know something about loyalty programs who actually don't...Gather 'round kids, let me 'splain a few things..."

dude, those cards are a scam and they are WRONG. what the hell is the point if every store requires them and you have to keep a card for EVERY STORE in your pocket? it turns into a zero sum game.

what utter bullshit.

why is trader joe's the cheapest store in town WITHOUT the stupid cards? they just have the lowest prices and don't require the customers to jump through any hoops at all.

you are wrong when you defend those fuckedup cards. they ARE a shell game and you know it. the stores just raise prices on certain other products (like beer in 24 ounce cans, which can be gotten MUCH cheaper at 7-11 and is NEVER put on "club card" sale).

overall, the stores are charging just as much as they ever did. methinks as an "insider," you've been drinking the kool-aid!


Posted by: neal N da LBC on May 11, 2008 at 5:36 AM | PERMALINK

dude, the cards are a scam and they are WRONG.

what the hell is the point if every store requires them and you have to keep a card for EVERY STORE in your pocket? it turns into a zero sum game.

what utter bullshit.

why is trader joe's the cheapest store in town WITHOUT the stupid fucking cards? they just have the lowest prices and don't require the customers to jump through any hoops at all.

you are wrong when you defend those cards. they ARE a shell game and you know it. the stores just raise prices on certain other products (like beer in 24 ounce cans, which can be gotten MUCH cheaper at 7-11 and is NEVER put on "club card" sale).

overall, the stores are charging just as much as they ever did. methinks that as an "insider," you've been drinking the kool-aid!


Posted by: neal N da LBC on May 11, 2008 at 5:38 AM | PERMALINK

sorry for the duplicate post, but i forgot the top line:

hey, SSDagg on May 10, 2008 at 3:37 PM,


dude, the cards are a scam and they are WRONG.

what the hell is the point if every store requires them and you have to keep a card for EVERY STORE in your pocket? it turns into a zero sum game.

what utter bullshit.

why is trader joe's the cheapest store in town WITHOUT the stupid fucking cards? they just have the lowest prices and don't require the customers to jump through any hoops at all.

you are wrong when you defend those cards. they ARE a shell game and you know it. the stores just raise prices on certain other products (like beer in 24 ounce cans, which can be gotten MUCH cheaper at 7-11 and is NEVER put on "club card" sale).

overall, the stores are charging just as much as they ever did. methinks that as an "insider," you've been drinking the kool-aid!


Posted by: neal N da LBC on May 11, 2008 at 5:43 AM | PERMALINK

sorry for the duplicate post, but i forgot the top line:

hey, SSDagg on May 10, 2008 at 3:37 PM,


dude, the cards are a scam and they are WRONG.

what the hell is the point if every store requires them and you have to keep a card for EVERY STORE in your pocket? it turns into a zero sum game.

what utter bullshit.

why is trader joe's the cheapest store in town WITHOUT the stupid fucking cards? they just have the lowest prices and don't require the customers to jump through any hoops at all.

you are wrong when you defend those cards. they ARE a shell game and you know it. the stores just raise prices on certain other products (like beer in 24 ounce cans, which can be gotten MUCH cheaper at 7-11 and is NEVER put on "club card" sale).

overall, the stores are charging just as much as they ever did. methinks that as an "insider," you've been drinking the kool-aid!


Posted by: neal N da LBC on May 11, 2008 at 5:45 AM | PERMALINK

"Indeed they track your purchasing habits - but they pay you for that information in the form of a discount. Those that don't provide that tracking service to the store don't get the discount. I don't understand what's so sinister about it."

What you describe is not universal. The program depends entirely on the store. What many are protesting are those stores who jack up their prices for non-card customers and then only give the "discount" (e.g., the regular price) to those customers with cards.

Posted by: PaulB on May 11, 2008 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

wow, 119 comments on loyalty cards!! I guess it is a rainy weekend.

Posted by: PTate in MN on May 11, 2008 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

If you buy online, the merchant knows everything that you (supposedly) give away for a loyalty card, except no discount. But go ahead, everyone, and go beserk about a distinction with no difference. And as many have pointed out, you don't have to give your real name and address.

"Amazon is cheaper than BOTH Borders and B&N, no card needed. I mean, seriously, who buys books at a bookstore anymore?"

I regularly compare buying at Amazon to B&N online, and B&N wins hands down. The posted prices are slightly higher, the Member discount brings them in line with Amazon, and then B&N offers free shipping at $25.

Posted by: Cal on May 11, 2008 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Avatar... the "no card" at Albertson's IS a part of its advertising.

Of course, Dallas is the first market where Wally-World is the No. 1 grocery store... yeccch.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 11, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

IIRC, the promises that were made w/r/t the loyalty cards when they first made their appearance (early 90s? -- and the first I ever encountered was one from one of the Boston-based supermarket chains) was that, by tracking my buying habits they'd be able to send me targeted promos. Never happened. In some cases, it seems clear that they have jacked the "regular" price in order to be able to "discount" it to cardholders, as has been repeatedly pointed out here. But in other cases -- many of them -- the savings seem genuine, compared to regular prices at other chains.
One way or another, though, I gotta say, if the existence of "loyalty cards," "affinity cards," or anything along these lines, even makes your top-100-things-worth-complaining-about list, you really don't have too tough of a life.

Posted by: smartalek on May 11, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

@SSDagg:

"So sure, you're giving up a bit of privacy by joining a loyalty program, but the exchange is right there in the open for you to see...it's not some 'trick'...THEY COMPENSATE YOU for it. And if you don't like it, shop somewhere else!! or pay in cash."

This is one reason I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe's. I don't want to carry loyalty cards around. Yes, I know I can use my phone number, but to me it feels like an annoying hassle. Since I can very well see that I'm getting ripped off when I go to the local (Vons) Pavilions, I never buy more than a dozen items there. Without going into too much detail, I am definitely a shopper which Pavilions would like to have - I never clip coupons, ever.

Years ago, I used to be a loyal Albertson's shopper, until they went to the loyalty cards. I wonder how many shoppers there are like me who actually do switch stores out of a desire to avoid these annoying store cards.

Posted by: Paul in OC on May 11, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Due to my commute, I end up grocery shopping in both swanky suburban stores and poor neighborhoods. In upscale stores you don't need a card, the cashier will just punch in a store number. In the city, you have to have a card, and they won't necessarily have an application if you ask for one.

Another way it costs money to be poor.

Posted by: Mary Racine on May 11, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Artemesia, Has407, neal:

In fact even the "perpetual" discounts are not simply a matter of raising prices and then offering "discounts" back to the original level, but then, you'd know this if you actually looked at the prices of some of those things and compared them to prices at other stores. For example, my local Safeway offers a perpetual discount of about 20% on milk, but the non-dsicounted price is pretty much market level for the other grocery stores in the area. So either they are all "jacking up" the price, which would be either irrational or collusion, or Safeway is actually giving a real discount to its members who buy its store brand of milk.

Frankly, if the large grocery chains were stupid enough to routinely overcharge when there's a WalMart around almost every corner, they'd all have gone out of business already, but in fact their margins are incredibly low (and Norsdtrom's isn't 300% either, Joy!). Didn't anyone here bag groceries in high school and see how a grocery store actually works?! Most of what they're trying doing with the cards is figuring out how to stock each store, that's why they don't care all that much if you use fake info -- as long as you carry that fake info with you when you move to a new location. Now, whether or not they're doing a good job of using that info is another questoin! The info to be gained from the buying habits of most people, segmented by several different stores for groceries, clothing, hardware, etc. simply isn't worth all that much, although I imagine that will change eventually.

As for Trader Joes, when I lived in SE Portland, their milk prices were never the lowest. Fred Meyer was the lowest, Safeway milk with the club card was lower, Trader Joes was a few pennies per gallon less than Safeway without the club card, and the crappy little A&P I passed on my way home way highest of all.

P.S. has407, have you actually read through some of the essays at the site you linked to? Other than instructing readers that they ought to comparison shop, the lead article is basically worthless, and the methodology sucks.

LOL -- you must have sleep walked through much of your life to believe this twaddle... if you were a sentient being when these things were introduced you would be perfectly aware that they jacked up regular prices in order to gull dimbulbs into believing they were getting 'savings'
Posted by: Artemesia on May 10, 2008 at 10:32 AM

Posted by: keith on May 12, 2008 at 7:45 AM | PERMALINK

So far, three kinds of posts:

1) Anti-card: usually still uses a card, but with a fake name
2) Pro (accepting) card: understands that the store pays you with a discount for presenting their card
3) Super anti-card: only shops at basement thrift stores by bartering services and gathers mushrooms from the forest. Makes clothes from hemp fibers grown under the back yard deck

Me, I'm #2. What would be helpful would be for there to be a service that aggregates all your loyalty programs into one, easy-to-carry, card instead of being forced to have a thick wallet falling-out of my pocket.

The "loyalty" card can serve two purposes for a store: 1) cause you to shop there for the savings and 2) understand the buying habits of their customers - maybe someday using this information to make "my" shopping experience better...

I'd say most stores are just getting the loyalty benefits - only the tech-heavy companies have the ability to start crunching the trends...

Posted by: rusrus on May 12, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

When I get to scan things myself, I just grab any loyalty card in my wallet and scan it. Usually I'm recognized as a loyal customer. I get the discount, someone else gets the loyalty points. It works in all but one grocery store here.

Posted by: arksnark on May 12, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

One of the primary reasons retailers use loyalty cards is to collect data on their customers. It allows them to track invidivudal customer behavior over time -- for example, if we put Pepsi on sale does our frequent coke buyer switch to Pepsi?

This is why most places will scan the loyalty card at the cash register even if you don't have one yourself. It's about data, not discounts.

Posted by: Phil on May 16, 2008 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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