Loyalty Apps & Shopper Cards, the Work of Satan.

(Graphic by Clay Ratcliff)

Clay Ratcliff on Mar 10, 2019 at 6:52 pm


Surely, we do not think good marketing necessarily equals good product. I mean, come on?! We’ve all been enticed by a good movie preview and realized the actual show sucked (Mortal Engines). In fact, I would go as far as to say, many times, it’s the really good marketing that inexplicably produces the best-selling pieces of crap (fidget spinners).

I remember when loyalty apps and shopper cards did not exist. Hey, shut up, kids, it was not that long ago. Just to be clear, the shopper cards are those little cards that either dangle on your grandmother’s keychain or are associated with your phone number so you can punch it in at the grocery or retail store in order to get a discount. And loyalty apps… well, you have a cell phone, right? What happened between that relatively short time ago, when they didn’t exist, and now?

The lenghty itunes service agreement in graphic novel form (by Robert Sikoryak)

As long as there is a relatively free market economy, marketing and merchandising will ever be a lucrative and effective way for companies to increase their profit margins. Simply put, the more companies know about your shopping habits, the better equipped they are at making money off of you.

You're hardly a cog in the wheel

So, what’s wrong with this? I would submit to you that culture has changed so drastically since the days of the non-existent loyalty apps and shopper cards, we don’t even realize when we are manifesting our conditioned submissiveness towards our corporate overlords. On the onset, isn’t it ironic that we all clamor to get these apps or cards because we’re going to save money, yet it is an indisputable truth that companies are not employing these tactics to lose money to you? A successful loyalty program will do just the opposite for a company. It will undoubtedly make MORE money off of you. Hmm, head scratcher.

“Do any of us actually know what any company is currently doing with our personal info?”

The question shouldn’t be, “What’s wrong with this?” The question should be, “When did it become not enough just to sell us things?” In other words, suppose a store just sold goods that we needed or wanted and that’s why we shopped there. And you’re thinking, “Well, yeah!? Isn’t that the case?” Not anymore, no. In order to survive it today’s market, a modern store, necessarily, is so much more than that. This all thanks to the advent of loyalty apps, shopper cards, automated computer algorithms and social media marketing platforms.

Regardless of whether the store has your actual name as an identifier or not, rest assured, you, as a shopper, are represented by some algorithmic measure or another. In other words, there’s some computer-generated piece of data out there that is essential the “shopper” representation of you.

I’m a bit astonishes at this point in the conversation when someone rebuts, “So what?” It’s terrifying actually. So, let’s answer the question, “So what?” So why do we worry about identity theft? A reasonable response might be that we’re not interested in strangers having our personal information to do with as they please, typically, in order to enrich themselves in one way or another at our expense. You might see where I’m going with this and think, “But that’s a stranger, clearly, with the one sole purpose of robbing you blind.” I’d say the only difference is, grocery and retail stores are simply doing a “piece meal” version of the same thing and, also, are you close friends with any grocery or retail stores?

And please don’t tell me you truly believe companies have loyalty apps and shopper cards to “make your shopping experience better” or “easier” or to sincerely “save you money” with the periodic coupon. Of course, that’s what they say at the time they’re trying to get you to download the app or hand over your info. A new con I’ve heard is that the cashier needs your phone number in case you have a return. What, the receipt, credit or debit card I purchased it on, along with the transaction record, would not suffice? I don’t even have time to get into the relatively new cash register scam that baffles my mind - selling you insurance on the thing you’re buying at check out. Notice how people usually just say yes to the insurance without getting any reference material or corresponding policy? They feel great that their “fiddle-de-widget” is insured but have no agreed upon idea or terms about how to make good on the insurance they just purchased?! And for the most part they’ll never have to worry about it. Percentage wise, virtually no one uses the impulse insurance purchase… EVER. I don’t blame the companies. It’s a cash cow!

Resistance is futile

Another question we should, unashamedly, be asking ourselves is the same question companies must ask themselves when they think of ideas like loyalty apps and shopper cards, and that is – “What does this do for me?” If a company asked you to download a loyalty app or offered you a shopper card in an honest fashion by saying, “We’d like to spy on you and obtain your personal information so we can sell you more stuff while making you think your saving money.” Would you accept that offer? Do any of us actually know what any company is currently gathering from our smartphones or doing with our personal info?

There’s an anecdotal sales story that is infamous lore among salespeople having to do with a shop owner and his experimentation with impulse buys. If you don’t know what an impulse buy refers to in the context of marketing, it has to do with products, usually small, that are put close to the register in order to entice you to add more stuff to your purchase at the last second – hence, impulse buy. The shop owner offered pencils for sale in the back of the store that were not selling well. He decided to open a package or two and sell them individually at the front counter for 10 cents a pencil. Even so, the 10 cent pencils still did not sell well until one day when he decide to use a different strategy. He’d heard that statistically people we’re more likely to spend a dollar on an impulse buy than denominations less than or more than a dollar. So, he changed the pencil price from 10 cents to 4 for a dollar, now the pencils were actually more expensive, but people bought them thinking they were getting a great “4 for a dollar” deal.

I’d like to think there are more people in society, besides myself, that would notice this shop owner’s pencil situation and bluntly point out, “Oh? Couldn’t sell them for 10 cents apiece, so now you’re going to try and rip me off, eh?”

Good marketing is solid gold. Marketing has been so sought after that, in the past, prior to shopper cards, I remember they used to have marketers stationed in shopping malls with clip boards that would pay you cash to answer survey questions. As a child I would often take them up on this and then take my new-found riches to the toy section at the dollar store. You don’t see those marketers anymore and why would you? At some point in time we, as a society, just decided to hand over ALL the important information marketers needed to manipulate us like lab rats.

I understand how this helps companies, but I don’t understand how this helps me or any other consumer. The idea that I should accept this because we DO live in a capitalistic, free-market society and stores must compete with one another, is the very reason I don’t want stores to have anyone’s personal information. I’m competing in that same market too! I don’t care about their competitive strategies at my expense and neither should you. If you can’t manage to keep your doors open by any other means except manipulating your consumers personal information, then go out of business for all I care! This “great” competitive landscape has completely neutered the whole experience it was supposed to enhance! Ever traveled across America? Notice how the retail shopping centers look the same wherever you go? Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Lowes, Ross, Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Lowes, Ross, Wal-Mart… Brand new independent companies can’t compete with this privacy invasive algorithmic grift job.

My son told me an interesting piece of information about the air conditioning company he works for. When they purchase goods or services for anything else relating to their daily operation, they NEVER buy from other air conditioning competitors. In other words, if they’re purchasing TVs for their boardroom, they protect THEIR bottom line by purchasing ONLY TV brands that do not also produce air conditioners. So, LG, you’re out!

We, as consumers, need to have this same savvy in mind. I like new independent businesses that compete with the “big boys”. I don’t want them to feel like, they too, must rape me of my private information in order to stay in business.

There’s a reason why we don’t just go passing cards out with our name, address and phone number on them to any stranger on the street.

You ARE being stalked and monitored at all times

So, what if I’m right? Is there really anything practical you can do at this point? I’m not sure if there is anything you can do by way of retrieving, and trusting a company would now delete, your info already being pillaged. However, what’s stopping you from getting another shoppers card and doing what the company did to all of us when they first offered them… lie. If you MUST have a shopper card, for God’s sake, NEVER actually put your real information on it and be indignant about it! It’s none of their business. Since when did buying goods at a store REQUIRE my personal information and not just my damn money. THAT’S the arrangement we need to return to… my money for your goods, that’s it, we’re not friends, Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy… I don’t know you. But unfortunately having one shopper card with fake information will not be enough. In all reality, you’ll have to have several and you’ll have to use them randomly in a rotation. Remember, even if you gave them no true information about yourself on one card, they are still accurately marketing the fake you in the same way they would have the real you and that’s a powerful thing. But not having your actual personal information is a good start.

I want companies to grow and compete by being good companies and selling good services and products NOT by being the best at marketing and merchandising. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons why the overall quality of goods and services are on the decline. Remember, just because you can hype something up really good and afford to give it lots of exposure, doesn’t mean it’s the best, it’s just the most hyped and this hype probably knows a lot more about you than you’re comfortable thinking about.

Clay Ratcliff on Mar 10, 2019 at 9:48 am

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