I have a wallet full of loyalty cards. Every time I buy sushi, they sneak one into the bag. Every new place I get coffee from tries to get me to take a card – when we both know that it would take approximately 2 years for me to buy the required 10 coffees just to get one free. And if I really wanted to, it would be super easy to just forge the purchases by grabbing a pen and ticking away – loyalty cards operate on an outdated honesty system.

But here’s the thing. At the coffee place where I frequent the most (McGregor Brothers Kitchen), I don’t have a card to rack up stamps on. They have a prepaid card and its sooooo much better. I buy 10 coffees in advance, I get my 10% discount right up front. If someone else from the office pops down to grab a coffee and offers to pick one up for me, I just give them my prepaid card and there is no ‘I’ll pay you back’, or ‘Here is a handful of coins’ or any other payment method. And my order is written on the card so there is no mixup or crestfallen looks when they say ‘Sorry, I thought you said decaf??’

So why do retailers insist on putting the burden on the customer to drag round these silly cards, demanding their loyalty – just to eventually offer them a small discount or token? If they just gave it to the customer up front then the onus is switched round and there is a stronger incentive for the customer to return again and again. And if they don’t, it is their loss.

Soon, wallet cards will soon be a thing of the past as your phone will hold everything you needΒ and you will arrive at your favourite cafe with your order ready and waiting for you. But until then, retailers should just chuck in the loyalty cards and give us back some wallet space. Please.

Update: Paying for coffee by just saying your name is on its way! Read more about Pay with Square here.


Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. What happens if you lose your card you’ve already pre-loaded your coffee’s onto though? The coffee shop doesn’t care (they’ve got your money) and you’re probably a bit sad.

    I think the right middle ground is the way Mojo coffee do it, you get a loyalty card and as long as you present it, you get your 10% discount every time. You still have the incentive to return, without having paid for coffee you haven’t yet drunk.

    The reason I guess most places just give you a sad cardboard card is it’s easy for them. The hardest bit of work they have to do is stamp it. Any other system requires some sort of tracking system, with the potential for problems to arise – Make the pre-pay card too simple and it’s easy to forge, make it a electronic account of some sort and then you have to track, maintain it and handle problems like “I paid for 10 coffees, why does it only show 5?”
    Most coffee shops don’t have the time or resource to be bothered.

    I too look forward to the day everything’s on my phone.


  2. Hey Tim, thanks for your comment. Yep you are correct – if I lose the card then its all my loss, the whole 40 bucks of it. So I’m awfully careful of what I do with it. It’s not a fancy pants system – its just a cardboard card with 10 boxes for stamps but the difference is that I have paid in advance and got the discount up front. Discounts at the time of purchase (like Mojo) are another good alternative.

  3. +1 for prepaid coffee! I’ve got two prepaid cards on the go.

    I’m not the mayor of McGregor Brothers or anything (unlike someone I know), but the system works so well I can walk in, mark my own card, and by some caffeinated magic, my coffee appears before me.

    Don’t know why more places don’t do it. Faster service time and cashflow win!

  4. I’d have one of those prepaid cards, if I could, please. The only card I’ve had in years has been with a Starbucks on Lambton that actually kept it behind the counter for me and stamped it when I bought one. Of course, they know me so well that they’d start making my coffee when they spotted me in the line, so it would be ready when I hit the register. Sadly, Starbucks closed that outlet. 😦 Which brings to mind the notion that I would have had to find another Starbucks to redeem my card at that point and there really isn’t one convenient to Parliament any longer. Even Mojo, which took over the storefront from Starbucks, closed. No wins at all when it comes to brand loyalty.

  5. My local, Poppy Jones, lets me tick up a month’s worth of coffees and pay on payday with a 20% discount on the whole lot. He just has my name on a bit of paper on his counter and strikes every time I get a coffee. Legend.

  6. Another reason I don’t think they work is that you have to jump through far too many hoops to get an unspectacular discount. Just the act of remembering to carry a card and get it stamped barely seems worth it for a 10% saving on a not-very-expensive item.

    My local cafe keeps a card on the counter and ticks it off for me when I visit. That requires less effort on my part, which is better. Even so, the day when my card is on my phone can’t come quick enough.

  7. Nice article Simone. Think your point about providing the benefit upfront with true loyalty then following naturally can be applied to all marketing too.

  8. I love what Starbucks do with their App and prepaid loading then scan your iPhone to pay. Maybe that’s just cos I’m a geek. Their “loyalty” system is taking the piss a bit (at least in the UK), buy 15 get 1 free.

    I’ve been waiting for square to make it’s way out of the U.S. for ages now, it’s a step closer with the deal they’ve just done with Starbucks. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/08/08/uk-starbucks-square-idUKBRE8771H320120808

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