Short Rant of the Week: Store Loyalty Cards


I don’t know when store “loyalty cards” became a thing, don’t remember using them 10 years ago every time I wanted to buy milk, a book, printer paper or sandals. Loyalty cards are those seemingly-useless cards branded with their store logos that you have to dig out of your purse before unloading your cart-load of groceries onto the belt, while also digging out your credit card, handing your reusable bags over while trying to convey the fact that you’d like ALL your groceries in the big reusable bags and not a bunch of plastic bags each containing one item (trying to do this without sounding entitled) and remembering to put the little plastic divider after your groceries so the impatient lady behind you won’t get pissed and sigh really loudly; she, by the way, has two items, but for some reason eschews the five items or less line… I have upwards of six loyalty cards arranged in a special card divider in my purse, not because I use them often, cherish my cards, or feel particularly loyal to my grocery store (which also has an annoying coin system) but because I hate experiencing that wave of panic when I can’t find my card and eight people are waiting behind me as I give over my name and phone number (which I’ll probably forget under pressure) to get into my account. According to articles like this one, stores implement loyalty cards because they gather invaluable information on “loyal” customers’ shopping habits swipe by swipe. Customers are rewarded with discounts. In my own experience, I find two of my loyalty cards actually deliver savings: Barnes and Noble and Famous Footwear. But Barnes and Noble charges a fee upfront to activate the card and I haven’t done the math, so my savings may be miniscule. Famous Footwear sends me $10 and $20 off coupons all the time; maybe because they’re not actually all that famous and they need the business. Target is my last loyalty card holdout. They can’t budge me. I had to take a stand sometime and based on their hard-sell I’m pretty sure the cashiers are getting a commission for pushing loyalty cards. As I said earlier, in addition to loyalty cards my local grocery store also has a coin system, the bane of my existence, where, after swiping my card, the cashier asks if I have a silver coin. If I give her a silver coin, at the end of the transaction she says “you won a silver coin” and gives me my coin back. I laugh every time, but I laugh alone because either the cashier doesn’t see the humor in the coin system or she’s sick of people pointing out how silly it is. If I don’t give her a coin, she doesn’t give me one in return. So I’ve taken to pretending I don’t have any coins. I’ve dropped into grocery stores I never shop at when traveling or to grab a water and when I explain that I don’t have a loyalty card, the cashier just swipes one she has hanging on a chain around her neck. It reminds me of playing store when I was little. Remember the colorful cash registers with their colorful plastic coins? Your friend would hand you a red coin marked 5 or 10, you’d pop open the drawer, rummage around and hand back a random coin. You’d both smile, nod your heads, say ‘thank you, have a nice day’ and pretend it made sense.


10 thoughts on “Short Rant of the Week: Store Loyalty Cards

  1. I used to have an amazing collection of loyalty cards on my key chain. I’d chuck the big ones in a drawer at home (I had no space in my tiny wallet) and lace them onto my key chain. Eventually even that didn’t work so well when I would have to flip through them to find the correct one. I paired down now to Lowes (it remembers what I buy, which works out for me when I need a second set of blinds and I completely forgot the brand and size) and Target. I use their debit card. It syncs with my debit/checking account so you swipe it like a normal debit card but it instantly gives me 5% back. Other than that, I took a long hard look at all the others and chucked them. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used them and half of them allow you to use your phone number so I just give them that.
    I agree with you though. There are fewer and farther in between places where you just walk in and make a purchase. I’ve never heard of the silver coin deal. Bizarre 🙂

    • Michelle, Great idea, except for my anxiety with giving my phone number on the spot:) I have a card for Olympia Sports which I’ve shopped at only once. I don’t know where the coin system comes from. The stores are in Connecticut and western Mass. You can also buy things with your coins, like a cheap knife set.

  2. So true! They have them here in France too. It’s everywhere and I can’t be bothered. I almost am ashamed though when I tell the cashier that no, I’m not loyal, as she gives me that reproachful look saying “Do you not know how much money you’d be saving?!” I smile and leave fast. I am not loyal to any store. I’d even venture to say it is precisely because they push so hard to make me loyal that I am not. Since when did it become imperative that consumers BELONG to one or another store? Thank you for the rant. The word they use in French is fidelité by the way. Which is the very same word we use to speak of faithfulness to a spouse. I mean please!

    • Fidelite (no accent mark on my computer) that’s a great, fitting word. I get the same guilt trip from cashiers, they even give me an exact amount: “You could have saved seven dollars today.” like I’m a spendthrift and should be ashamed of myself for not wanting to save a few bucks. I wonder how loyal our stores are to us! My credit card was already breached at Target once, I’m not about to link up my checking out to their debit card system.

  3. You are one step ahead of me. Just yesterday I was that person rummaging around in my purse asking what colour their loyalty card was in order to ease my attempts at finding it. For many of the stores I am not even sure what the card does. What I can redeem points for or how I would go about redeeming those points. I keep saying that I need to get a separate little card holder for all of the loyalty cards so as to be less irritating to others and my self.

    I do find that the practices, rituals, expectations . . . at a check out counter could provide ample study for a social scientist. My favorite (read worst) experience at a check-out was at the dreaded Walmart just a couple weeks before Christmas. There was a single long line for the 4 check yourself out tills. It was actually quite practical. That way there were not 4 separate lines, with the pressure of decided based on a multitude of practical and random observations which line will move the fastest. Everyone was in the same line. It looked long, but moved efficient. I finally got to the front of the line and was waiting to go to whichever of the 4 tills was available first. A woman approached me abruptly and said “which one are you in line for?”. I responded that there was just one line and that I was in line for whichever till was available first. Her initial response was to repeat her initial question again. “No, which one are you lining up for.” I then repeated in slightly different language my explanation of our lining up strategy. She responded in an indignant and fairly angry/aggressive manor, “That is NOT how we line up at Walmart!”. I stood there stunned and regretfully let her just go ahead to whatever line she wanted to line up for. All I could think was “how come I did not get the handbook on how to line-up at Walmart?” The experience only confirmed my extreme distaste for that store. So now, whenever I see someone doing something that they are not supposed to do at a checkout, in my head I yell “That is NOT how we line up at Walmart.” In some ways I am glad for the insanity of others as it provides me with ample amusement.

    • That’s hilarious! Checkout line etiquette should be studied. That woman reminds me of an episode of ‘Curb your Enthusiasm’ where a woman outside a theater performance told Larry David he couldn’t bring water into the theater, no water allowed. He thought she was an usher, but when he got to his seat she was sitting right in front of him, just another audience member. I like that the woman assumed you had single handedly changed the standard Walmart line up procedure.

  4. Big Y?! I have so many Gold Coins that sit in my change jar, I despise their system. I finally broke down and paid the $20 bucks to be a Silver Coin card holder. Everytime I check out they ask if I have any Gold Coins, I do at home but never, ever in my wallet.
    Big Y and Barnes & Noble are the only two I have I try to fight the data gathering system as much as I can.

    • Yes, Big Y! I’v never held a gold coin in my life:) Probably because I’m so stingy with the silver. Sometimes when I get a silver coin, I leave it on the gum ball machines on my way out. If my boys were still small they’d love that play money!

  5. ALL TRUE~SO TRUE!!! Love that you put these thoughts into words!! ….I’m enjoying the recall of playing store when I was a kid too!!
    Enjoy your day and trips to the market!!

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