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Loyalty program

In marketing generally and in retailing more specifically, a loyalty card, rewards card, points card, or club card is a plastic card, visually similar to a credit card or debit card, that identifies the card holder as a member in a commercial incentives programme. In the United Kingdom it is typically called a loyalty card, in Canada a rewards card or a points card, and in the United States either a discount card, a club card or a rewards card. Cards typically have a barcode or magstripe that can be easily scanned, and some are even chip cards. Small keyring cards are often used for convenience.

Nectar loyalty card
Nectar loyalty card

A retail establishment or a retail group may issue a loyalty card to a consumer who can then use it as a form of identification when dealing with that retailer. By presenting the card, the purchaser is typically entitled to either a discount on the current purchase, or an allotment of points that can be used for future purchases. Hence, the card is the visible means of implementing a type of what economists call a two-part tariff.

Air Miles Card.
Air Miles Card.

The card issuer requests or requires customers seeking the issuance of a loyalty card to provide a usually minimal amount of identifying or demographic data, such as name and address. Application forms usually entail agreements by the store concerning customer privacy, typically non-disclosure (by the store) of non-aggregate data about customers. The store — one might expect — uses aggregate data internally (and sometimes externally) as part of its marketing research.

Where a customer has provided sufficient identifying information, the loyalty card may also be used to access such information to expedite verification during receipt of cheques or dispensing of medical prescription preparations, or for other membership privileges (e.g., access to a club lounge in airports, using a frequent flyer card).

Critics see the lower prices and rewards as bribes to manipulate customer loyalty and purchasing decisions, or as a case of infrequent-spenders subsidising frequent-spenders. Others worry about the commercial use of the personal data collected as part of the programmes. It is also possible that consumer purchases are tracked and analyzed toward more efficient marketing and advertising. There also remains the possibility that law enforcement agencies could be granted access to the stored information during an investigation of a customer's activities. For example, in 2004, a Winn-Dixie key-ring card was left behind at the scene of the crime, which led to the criminal.

Why loyalty programs ?

Loyalty programs are initiated by businesses with two main goals. The primary goal for most loyalty programs is the acquisition of information relating to their customers' spending habits, while the secondary goal is to actively cultivate loyalty amongst customers to ensure they continue patronizing the business. While some companies do reverse these priorities, the above hierarchy holds true for most

Loyalty cards are the most common form of loyalty programs found throughout the world today. In the United States, almost seventy-five percent of consumers own at least one loyalty card, with over a third of all shoppers owning two or more. Major supermarket chains, such as Safeway and Albertsons, nearly all have loyalty cards, also known as rewards cards or benefit cards. These supermarket loyalty programs usually operate by offering a discount on certain products, usually marked throughout the store, to those who have a loyalty card. In exchange for this discount, customers are giving the store access to itemized receipts of their buying habits in the store, allowing the business to better cater to their needs and build product purchasing and discounting to help retain their most profitable customers

Loyalty programs have gained in popularity immensely in the past fifteen years, in no small part due to the development of a culture of entitlement, in which consumers feel that they deserve special treatment. Businesses have capitalized on this when designing their loyalty programs, often offering benefits that cost little, but carry with them an assumed prestige, such as access to faster-moving lines or special parking spaces

Ultimately, the success of loyalty programs depends on how well the business uses the data it gathers to further refine its policies and loyalty programs. Many businesses find little profit in the use of loyalty programs, while others, such as eBay, attribute much of their financial success to a well-executed use of such programs

The object of a loyalty program is to retain regular customers, to increase commitment from occasional customers and to acquire new ones. Customers are canvassed by customised service and product offers and, at the same time, swayed by material benefits such as discounts and rewards or by nonmaterial benefits such as recognition. Large companies in particular are turning to loyalty programs to better understand and steer customer behaviour


  • Gather point balances with each transaction
  • Increase average purchase and frequency of visits by more than 25%
  • Capture consumer profiles
  • Track purchase behavior
  • Offer special promotions in partnership with vendors
  • Substantially minimize fraud
  • Measure program results
  • Up-sell customer to more profitable product
  • The customer enjoys the individual recognition, the personalised service, the fast and convenient transactions and the advantageous payment and service conditions

    Is it Worth Shopping with a Loyalty Card?

    Loyalty card schemes encourage shoppers to use particular banks or retailers by offering points linked to how much is spent. Points can be exchanged for money-off vouchers and other benefits, such as Air Miles. Loyalty cards are not credit or store cards

    The schemes have proved spectacularly successful. Britain’s most popular loyalty card, Nectar, launched in 2002, is used by more than 13million households. It allows you to earn discounts with a collection of High Street names, such as Sainsbury's, Debenhams, BP and Barclaycard. Other cards are run by just one chain, for example Boots and Marks & Spencer run their own schemes

    The company benefits economically from a database containing detailed information on regular customers. The database can be used to provide personalised service, to target direct mailings and other advertising, and for more effective planning and stockkeeping. In addition, the stress on service orients companies away from pure price competition

    Cards in the United Kingdom

    The loyalty card market in the UK is one of the most significant in the world, with most major chains operating some form of reward system. The best known and most successful in the UK is the Nectar loyalty card scheme

    However, of the major supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, and Morrison's), only Tesco and Sainsbury's offer a card-scheme to customers. Tesco's Clubcard scheme has been operating since 1995, with Sainsbury's Reward Card opening one year later in 1996. Safeway which has since been taken over by Morrisons also had a loyalty card which was launced around this time and was known as the ABC Card, however this was axed in 2000. [2] Sainsbury's replaced their Reward Card with the Nectar card in 2002. The Nectar card is a collaboration between Sainsbury's, BP, Debenhams, and numerous other issuers, so customers can quickly obtain points on their card in various shops and redeem them on products of their choice. Airlines, Hotels and other loyalty schemes also offer cards.

    Tesco Clubcard
    Tesco Clubcard

    Both Nectar and Tesco's Clubcard scheme have been criticised for not offering 'value for money'. Newspaper reports frequently focus on the fact that many hundreds of pounds must be spent on the cards before even a theme park visit can be bought ([3]) When Clubcard or Nectar points are used for money off supermarket shopping, they roughly equate to a 1% discount, although offers can increase this discount by as much as 4 times for certain rewards. Some retailers with banking operations also award points for every pound spent on their credit cards, as well as bonus points for purchasing finanical services.

    A recent report in The Economist newspaper suggested that the real benefit of loyalty cards to UK outlets is the massive database potential they offer.

    Cards in the United States

    In the U.S., several major supermarket chains and at least one major pharmacy require the cards in order for customers to receive the advertised loyalty price. These include Kroger, Safeway (through its own name and many of its regional chain names), Albertsons, Winn Dixie, Harris Teeter, Ingles, Giant Eagle, Tops, and CVS/pharmacy. However, stores also allow a customer to use the store's card if a customer does not have theirs on hand or if the customer is new and agrees to sign up right away. Many of the stores allow accumulation of fuel discounts. Some have tie-ins with airline frequent flier programs, and some agree to donate a percentage of sales to a designated charity.

    The practice is also common among book and music retailers, from large chains to independent retailers. In some instances, the customer purchases the card and receives a percentage discount on all purchases for a period of time (often one year), while in other instances, a customer receives a one-time percentage discount upon reaching a specified purchase level. (For example, a bookseller's loyalty card program might provide a customer with a 10% off coupon once the customer has spent $200.00 at the bookseller.)

    In addition, office supply retailers Staples, Inc. and Office Depot started issuing club cards in 2005

    Almost all of the major hotel chains (Best Western, Choice Hotels, Holiday Inn, Marriott, Super 8 Motels, etc.) have similar cards that allow guests to earn either points (redeemable for discounts, future stays or other prizes) or airline miles (Hilton's program allows guests to earn both on the same stay, the only program to date that does so). All major US Airlines also offer rewards credit cards. See list of travel reward cards.

    Two major petrol distributors have adopted the Exxon-Mobil Speedpass which is not only a loyalty token, but also contains a mechanism for authorizing electronic payment, used by over seven million customers worldwide (in 2004).

    For now, most American retailers have not implemented club cards. In a few cases (e.g., Federated Department Stores) this is because the retailer already issues its own credit cards, and thus already has a direct relationship with the consumers most likely to shop at its stores. Also, many retailers are simply not large enough to justify the cost of creating, promoting, and operating a club card program.

    Some supermarket customer loyalty cards inadvertently work at the scanners of other non-affiliated stores. For example, a Kroger card has been successfully recognized as a respective loyal club member at stores in the Food Lion, Pathmark and Winn-Dixie chains.

    A few states have begun regulating club cards. For example, supermarkets in the U.S. state of California are subject to the Supermarket Club Card Disclosure Act of 1999 [5]. Some grocery chains have dropped their loyalty card programs. Rainbow Foods in Minnesota ended their loyalty card program after being acquired by Roundy's, leaving Minnesota with no major grocers that use such cards.

    Loyalty Programs in Australia

    By far the largest loyalty program in Australia is the FlyBuys card backed by Coles Myer, Australia's largest retailer, the National Australia Bank and Shell. Rival retailer Woolworths has a program tied to its Ezy Banking product, offered in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank, where points are earned on spending in some Woolworths stores using an Ezy Banking Card. Many specialist retailers also offer a variety of loyalty programs.

    OneCard a cash rewards program, rewards members for purchasing at OneCard Discount Partners, allowing instant gratification by way of real cash rewards that do not expire or have huge hurdles to redeem.

    OneCard a cash rewards program, rewards members for purchasing at OneCard Discount Partners, allowing instant gratification by way of real cash rewards that do not expire or have huge hurdles to redeem.

    Most Australian Banks offer a range of credit card rewards programs which feature bonus partner agreements with various retailers.

    Australia also boasts many online loyalty programs. Some of these programs include Rewards Online, EmailCash (Review) and Dynamic Rewards (Review).

    Loyalty programs in Canada

    The oldest loyalty program in Canada is Canadian Tire money and Canadian Tire gives out coupons each time someone shops at their store. The Air Miles reward program is Canada's largest loyalty program - Air Miles can be earned at more than 100 different sponsors and there are almost a thousand different rewards to redeem for. In western Canada the largest program is run by Save-On-Foods with the Save-On-More reward program.

    Another large Canadian loyalty program that has been around for a long time is the HBC Rewards/Club Z program first started by Zellers. Loblaws offers President's Choice Financial program where users of the service get PC Points towards free groceries. Staples Business Depot and Shoppers Drug Mart also offer rewards programs in Canada.

    Almost every gas station in Canada offers some sort of program such as Esso Extra at the Esso gas stations, Petro Points at Petro-Canada, CAA Dollars at Sunoco, Canadian Tire money at Canadian Tire gas stations, or a coupon that grants the customer 3.5 cents per litre of fuel purchased at Sobey's Fast Fuel locations that can be used at a Sobeys banner store. Lobaws Atlantic Superstore The Real Canadian Superstore also grants a 3.5 cent a litre coupon that can be used at their stores.

    Many hotel chains also offer some sort of loyalty program. Canada is also home to Air Canada's Aeroplan.

    Cards in the Republic of Ireland

    In the Republic of Ireland loyalty cards have been in operation since 1993, when Superquinn introduced its SuperClub loyalty card scheme. This is regarded as having been the prototype for such schemes in Europe. However loyalty cards did not expand until 1997, when Tesco Ireland introduced its Clubcard scheme, shortly after its purchase of Power Supermarkets. This was essentially a simple expansion of the UK scheme (see above) - cards for this are physically identical to those used by Tesco in the UK and they can be used in both countries. Dunnes Stores responded with the introduction of their own ValueClub scheme. Today these are three main schemes operating in Ireland. although ValueClub has been withdrawn from Dunnes' Northern Ireland stores.

    All five major petrol station chains in the country operated a scheme during the late 1990's - Esso had "Tiger Miles", Maxol had "Points Plus", both of which operated on the principle of getting items from a gift catalogue, with Shell using Dunnes' scheme, Texaco using the SuperQuinn system, and Statoil operating a cash-back system, "Premium Club". Due to increasing oil prices and tightening of margins, all of these schemes ended by the end of 2005. Tesco Ireland's petrol stations still, however, give Clubcard points.

    GAME, a major computer game and hardware retailer also operate a cashback card scheme, which was merged with Electronics Boutiques programme following the separation of their northern European stores into the hands of GAME.

    Loyalty programs in Asia

    In the Malaysia, the BonusLink program was introduced in a joint venture between Shell, Parkson, Maxis and MBF. The BonusLink program is coalition with earning and redemption partners allowing members to earn points at a number of Malaysian retailers. In Singapore, the Atlife rewards program was launched in 2005.

    Other notable programs in Asia include Krisflyer, the Singapore Airlines rewards program, and AsiaMiles, which was part of Cathay Pacific

    In China, the Smartclub program allows all Shanghai residents to earn SmartPoints free, each time they take the subway, bus, or taxi. Those SmartPoints can be combined with points earned at McDonald's, eLong, Sport100, cinemas, bookstores, and other SmartClub partner retailers.

    Hong Kong also offers the Octopus Rewardsprogram, which started as a chip based smartcard for transport and now, the octopus cards can be used to earn points in certain shops.

    In Taiwan, the French retailer Carrefour has recently introduced a new loyalty scheme whereby customers can earn and redeem points for purchases made in the store, and also earn additional points for all purchases made using a Carrefour branded credit card.

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