VIEWPOINT - Supermarkets ought to realise potential of customer databases

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?

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

it.



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

’points-win-prizes’.



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

shop.



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.



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