Why loyalty cards suck


Of course, as the writer gets on to saying later in the article, while Loyalty cards are not great at their stated purpose, they can be devastatingly effective at their non-advertised role. They enable the retailer to link your personal details to your purchases, the locations you shop at and possibly your credit card details. Usually with a view to selling you even more stuff.


I thought the whole point of loyalty cards was to allow the companies to datamine your purchases more (they already do it per receipt, but didn’t have a good way to tie multiple receipts together before).

I hate those stupid cards. I use them because otherwise the store will blatantly rip you off on a good percentage of their items (the ones not on sale), but they’re obnoxious. If they absolutely must have them, I wish they would all combine into a single card that works everywhere. It’s even more data mining opportunities (but only if they share, which is probably not going to happen) but it wouldn’t require me to carry an extra dozen cards in my wallet or on my keychain, although these days I just cut out the barcode and tape it to the handle of my reusable grocery bag.


His criteria for not sucking involve extra expense, and his criteria for sucking involve things being cheaper. It feels like he’s missed something rather important here- which is that most people are broke, and depend on the deals provided by the ‘sucky’ stores with loyalty programs.


One thing I’ve discovered: If you do self checkout the machines will usually accept any phone number you type in (even 999-999-9999) as a loyalty club customer number. Checkouts with actual cashiers are generally more strict however.

And of course companies have gotten wise to this and have started attaching other discounts (like gas rewards) to your card, so you can’t just put in any old number to give them the finger anymore, not if you want to save $0.70/gallon on your next fillup.

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I found out that almost all stores have a loyalty card that the checkout person can swipe for you to get the advertised discounts, without having to sign up. Frees me from carrying another damn card, gets me the discount, and leaves me out of their database. When they ask for my card I say, “Can you swipe yours for me?” There is only one store I’ve found that won’t let me do this.

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It can vary by cashier. Sometimes managers get testy about cashiers using the store card becaus they’re getting pressure from corporate. It can vary from day to day too, which makes asking for the store card a bit of a gamble. They’ll usually be happy to give you an application for a new card, but I really don’t want to collect a ton of those.

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I use one but I never registered it. I get the discounts and it prints out coupons but they have no idea who I am.


This, for me, was the important part:

Are you buying your sandwiches, groceries, and shampoo from the same stores? If so, go back to the loyalty program. I’m not irrational: If you can buy the same stuff for less money, you might as well do it.

I have a loyalty card from my favorite burrito place. They’re not a national chain, and, unless they’ve got some serious magic going on, there’s no way they’re datamining my purchasing history from a piece of cardboard they hit with a rubber stamp every time I buy fish tacos, unless you count the employees who see me often enough that they know me.

I appreciate that Palmer’s judicious about it, that he’s putting it out there as an idea that should be considered judiciously, not as something we must do.


They don’t have to know “who” you are by name or address, but your constant use of the same card is a signal to them. It’s the same as pinging the MAC address on your phone, something all malls do now; they may not know who actually owns that phone, but they do know every time that phone enters the mall, where and when it shops, etc. They can use that information to schedule mobile advertising, alert stores ahead of you, etc. etc.


I have a loyalty card from a regional chain, but I use it because said chain store is within walking distance. I’d rather not have to drive anywhere to get groceries, especially not since I tend to shop on a daily basis for fresh foods. Canned and boxed goods are a monthly purchase from restaurant suppliers or big-box stores ilke Costco.

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Or perhaps more profitably, selling your information to someone else.

Attaching your name and address to a loyalty card is almost guaranteed to increase the junk mail sent to your house.

Every time I go into Krogers I say I don’t have a card, can I have an application please, which they give to me then use the still-anonymous card on the spot. Whether because of cashier turn-over, varying times of day, underpaid cashiers totally not giving a shit, or just being really nice people, I’ve never had a problem with this. I have a small pang of conscience about the unused applications entering the waste stream, so I should just try asking if I can use the store card like other people have said.

I also pay cash, so they can’t track me that way, just because they don’t deserve to know that. However, several of our local Krogers have installed a bank of cameras suspended mid-air from the ceiling over the check-out bagging area. They claim it’s so they can see which lanes are open and which are busy so they can direct people to open cashiers, but the state of the art would certainly also allow them to tie cash-payers to their purchases by facial recognition, if they wanted to make that investment.


Hmm. Been trying to buy more from Barnes and Noble because Amazon sucks in so many ways. And every time I go there, they push their discount card at me. Guess I should go with Powell’s or someone…

Or use the classic - 867-5309 with any area code.

In some cases, the savvy shoppers who registered those numbers are reaping a nice stream of loyalty bonuses, and you don’t get tracked like a tagged seal. Unless you then make it moot by using a credit card to pay.


There are exceptions. My parents’ town has a grocery store whose loyalty card accumulates points which goes towards reducing the cost of gasoline purchased at the local gas station. It’s a great deal. And the store is awesome.

Well, at least we still have the sanctity of the Taco Bell dollar menu.

Those cameras are usually pointed at the cashiers, because cashiers are sometimes unreliable and only working the job to be the inside man. They’ve been a common feature in most grocery stores for as long as I can remember. Theoretically they would also be useful for catching a crook that held up the cashier, but that’s pretty rare.


I very rarely go to Krogers, but whenever I do and tell them I don’t have a card the cashier always says, “Okay, use mine” and swipes theirs. I don’t know if it’s niceness, not caring, or somehow thinking they’re sticking it to The Man, but I appreciate it.

The loyalty program at Kroger is silly because almost every item in the store requires the card to get the price shown. When the cards first started, you would get access to a small number of sales items that were actual sales. Now you’re getting the normal price with some fantasy price listed above it that almost no one pays since as others have noted, cashiers will typically scan their card for you. It’s a way of setting a perceived value so you’ll feel like you saved money when it’s really just a game. It’s another reason why I rarely shop at Kroger.

If they want me to actually like having a card instead of seeing it as an unnecessary game, they need to offer me something other than pretend prices. How about letting me download a list of all of my purchases? Or better yet, let me download nutritional information about my purchases. A few years ago I lost 40 lbs by tracking calories and nutritional information. This would have been so much easier if I didn’t have to manually enter anything I bought that wasn’t in the tracking app’s database. The cost of someone entering that data into the computer would be trivial when divided over the millions of units they sell during the life of the product per revision. But they’re looking at it only from the point of view of what the card can do for them and not what it can do for the customer.