It seems that marketing departments around the country are locked
into a frenzy of customer loyalty cards - a craze apparently spurred by
Tesco’s much-vaunted success with Club Card. As a tactical move, Tesco’s
scheme outfoxed Sainsbury’s in the short term, but am I alone in
suspecting that, in its present guise, it is likely to have a negative
effect on long-term loyalty?
Of course, as supermarkets have the ability to collect huge amounts of
customer data, it was inevitable they would eventually make use of
The only surprise is that none of them appear to have realised the full
potential of this wealth of information. The current loyalty cards are
merely the 90s version of Green Shield Stamps. The main differences are:
1) that the retailer bears the burden of collecting the points; 2) that
the technology allows the shop to target individual consumers with
relevant offers. (In practice, all this really means is that if you’ve
ever bought catfood or nappies they’ll send you a voucher for the
store’s own-label version of these products.)
No matter how you dress them up, the cards boil down to
They’re just another step in the disturbing trend to train consumers to
purchase on discounts rather than brand preference.
Like many consumers, I have a Tesco Club Card. However, I also have a
Sainsbury’s Reward Card. (If there were a Safeway in my area, I’d have
an ABC card, too.) As long as I’m shopping there, I’d be a fool not to
take advantage of the discounts. After all, the mechanic is relatively
painless. However, the shop I go to most often is the one that is
easiest to get to, has more parking, longer opening hours, more
checkouts and a wider range of goods. Now that all the supermarkets have
card schemes they effectively cancel each other out. The recent Mintel
report on retaining customer loyalty seems to confirm this.
If anything, the cards have made me less loyal than I was before. With
their launch my expectations rose. I had hoped that my two local
supermarkets would begin to recognise and value my custom. However,
neither has contacted me in a way which would lead me to believe it was
even remotely interested in me, nor given me any compelling reason why I
should choose it over its competitors. The stores lavish such a huge
amount of money on TV to establish an empathetic personality, it’s a
shame that none of this comes alive in their direct communication.
I believe that Tesco is winning the supermarket wars, not because of its
loyalty card, but because it is slightly closer to its customers than
the others are. On balance, Tesco has created a better place to
I can only hope that one day a supermarket will wake up to the real
potential of its database and give me an emotionally compelling reason
to reward it with my loyalty.
Jon Voelkel is planning director at Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel.