Customer Loyalty cards and budgeting

Customer loyalty cards actually annoy me. I’d rather retailers just make things a bit cheaper. They don’t tend to work on me as the benefits aren’t usually enough for me to change my shopping habits. If swiping a loyalty card provides some small benefit though and I’m buying something anyway, I’d rather swipe and get the free whatever, even though it’s not really free and is built into the price.

For a while though, I got sick of carrying around plastic loyalty cards. I tried keeping them in my car, but kept forgetting them after I had already started shopping. Then one day I noticed someone cleverly signing into my local climbing gym using a photo of his membership card on his smart phone. So simple! I grabbed my plastic loyalty cards, snapped a picture of the side with the barcode with my smartphone and huzzah. I’ve been scanning loyalty card photos with ease since and no longer miss out on the loyalty program points. Thankyou random climber dude!

To make it easier, I’ve saved all my photographed loyalty cards in a folder in the gallery of my smartphone. I’ve had to explain it to the occasional shop staff, but have never been told I can’t use the photographed card.

There has been one catch. Certain cards don’t scan from my phone screen, but for these I have been able to enter the barcode number manually at the self-serve checkouts. I’ve noticed that there are some apps available for storing rewards cards. It looks like they render a completely new barcode that matches the one on the loyalty card, rather than relying on a photo. That’ll probably be more accurate, so I will give one of those a go when I get a chance. It might even be even more convenient and if it is, I’ll provide a review.

Now the trap with customer loyalty cards, is that you end up buying something that is not in your budget just for the points, or you shop at a more expensive shop. That is of course why retailers offer them. I find the points will rarely be enough to make it worthwhile buying something you wouldn’t otherwise buy. In fact, you usually need to spend many thousands of dollars before you’re eligible for anything you would want, so the trick is to not get drawn into the marketing. Reserve loyalty for stores with great service, good products and good prices, and ultimately make rational purchase decisions.

Usually I do my weekly grocery shopping at a store which offers no customer loyalty program, but is cheaper because of their low cost business model. About once a month I end up in a bigger supermarket that has loyalty cards as my cheaper store does have a limited range. Sometimes, randomly, I get extra points due to some special deal related to something I was going to buy anyway!

The only real cost of using the loyalty cards is convenience, but that’s no real impost when using my smartphone. I usually opt for a shopping voucher for my groceries and at one point I was able to get a $100 voucher. Can’t hurt the budget I reckon!