Loyalty Programs

I found a reference to Regis McKenna today and ended up on his website regis.com.  He's a big wig in modern marketing (I like his book Real Time) and I found an article on loyalty programs.  It got me thinking about those.  Over the years the number of them has grown tremendously, but what real value have they added to our lives?

 Everyone has them, and they're all about equal...so what's the benefit.  Think about the grocery store...now, instead of using paper coupons everything is discounted based on their discount program....but now you need to sign up for all of them.   Well, OK, so they collect information and  now they could know all about my purchases, frequency, etc.  Over the years how has that improved my experience at the grocery store?  As far as I can tell it hasn't.  There is no custom product on the shelf built to my specifications, no pre-selected cart full of groceries when I show up...so what do I get?  I get to wait while people fiddle around looking for their plastic member cards before they even attempt to pay (and don't get me started with people who wait until after everything is rung up to start writing a paper check...it should be legal to shoot them). 

I don't know about other chains but I shop Safeway and they are trying to offer something of value...United miles for free airline tickets (assuming United stays in business).  So, they give you 125 miles for $250 in purchases.  That's $50,000 in groceries.  Assuming I spend $400 a month in groceries I will only have to wait 10.5 years for a free ticket....I'm not sure how others feel but that doesn't seem immediate enough to really drive my behavior.  Oh, and after "accumulating" these miles for years, I have never seen a statement showing how slowly I'm creeping towards the goal or how I would go about collecting on my "free" airfare.

Plastic cards, dongles, keychain tags, maybe someday RFID tags, smartcards, whatever.  Stop giving me more crap to carry around.  The Speedpass from Exxon amazes me.  It drove up their sales and their customers went bonkers for it.  So, the company gives you a RFID tag that you have to carry around and wave in front of a sensor, after a bit they charge your credit card, that's that chunk of plastic in your pocket/purse all the time anyway.  Why not just use that?  I don't find using the card readers all that difficult.

So, I pay for most everything with the same credit card all the time...which I know can be tied to my identity since I get a bill addressed to me each month.  So, why do I need all these other cards...hotels, car rental, dry cleaner, coffee shop, gas station.  And don't ask me for something else...I hate it when I get the "can I get your phone number" question.  Unless the person is flirting, don't ask me. Or better yet, tell me why and let me decide if your offer is worth my info.

Maybe companies should just fire the marketing department, lose their loyalty programs, and lower their prices.