Invasion of the Loyalty Cards


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Loyalty cards have invaded and have taken over our lives! It all started innocently enough. It seemed like no big deal when airlines and hotels embraced the ‘frequent’ traveler rewards programs. We consumers embraced the idea of earning rewards for our travel.

Little did we know that loyalty cards would band together and plot to overtake our lives! The momentum built slowly so that we wouldn’t notice. First we had one airline and one hotel loyalty card stowed safely in our wallets. Soon, we added other cards to make sure that we took advantage of our travel activities on all airlines and hotels that we might visit. Then, as if we wouldn’t notice, rental car reward cards snuck into our wallets. As we added airlines, hotels, and rental car cards, the number of loyalty cards that we held crept into the double digits.

Other businesses eager to cash in on the loyalty card phenomenon were quick to respond. One by one we added loyalty cards from restaurants, grocery stores, department stores, gasoline stations, coffee shops, video stores, and pet stores. Colorful plastic cards that beckoned us to use them more and more soon overwhelmed our wallets.

The invasion was on! Our wallets were completely overtaken and could take on no more new plastic cards. Like an aggressive parasite, loyalty cards looked for new areas to invade and quickly found our key rings an inviting target. Like something out of a science fiction movie, loyalty cards spawned a new breed of key fobs that crept onto our key rings and multiplied like rabbits. Seemingly overnight, plastic fobs overtook our key rings.

The quiet invasion of the loyalty cards continues today. New businesses enter the fray every day. Book stores, doctors offices, eyeglass stores, veterinarians, and home improvement contractors add to the mountain of loyalty plastic. I fear the day that my lawyer or doctor issues a loyalty card for proctology exams.

I know that I have reached the point of saturation; there is no more room in my wallet or key ring for even one more loyalty card. The overflow of loyalty cards that won’t fit have now assembled together and have begun an assault of various desk, kitchen, and dresser drawers in my house.

We could fight back by throwing them all away, but that’s like asking a life long cigarette smoker to quit cold turkey. Loyalty cards don’t necessarily encourage loyalty – they create a sense of guilt. When a shopper buys at a store without their loyalty card they feel guilt; guilt for not saving a few dollars or not earning their reward points. Loyalty cards are like an addiction; they’re hard to give up.

Loyalty cards are popular with businesses because it can help them to identify their customers, create a sense of exclusivity, and reward their best customers. The mountain of loyalty plastic, however, is creating a burden on today’s consumer to carry – and remember to use – their loyalty card.

To stop the invasion, businesses need to increasingly implement loyalty programs that allow the consumer to self-identify without the need of a physical loyalty card. For online businesses, this is easier to accomplish with cookies or simple online account management capabilities. For brick and mortar businesses, the challenge of consumer identity management is the holy grail of customer relationship management. Until then, the loyalty card invasion will continue to be well engrained in today’s business environment.

I just hope they solve the problem soon. I can’t carry any more loyalty plastic…

…and I shudder at the thought of loyalty cards invading my underwear drawer.

Robert Howard
Robert G. Howard, Partner at Kurt Salmon, has more than 20 years of experience designing and implementing innovative customer experiences across web, retail, customer care, and mobile channels. Mr. Howard is the co-author of the The Customer Experience Fiasco, and 7 Steps to Customer Experience Domination.


  1. Robert I feel your pain, I had to order a completely separate “wallet” just for my reward cards. If I tried to keep them all in my regular wallet, well it would be the size of a small handbag. What’s funny is I rarely think of these cards as loyalty cards, but more akin to discount cards, without the cards I have to pay a higher price. Not I get a reward for shopping there frequently.

    Rarely do I ever get a specific offer for me that says- hey, we see you always buy this in our store and its on sale this week, or looks like you buy lots of kids books here are some things going on in our store this month for kids to enjoy. Or, for our loyal customers, those who spent over this amount this month you get $10 off your next order. This would imply these cards are used to track my behavior, get to know me and build a relationship, and even up-sell me on more of their stuff.

    I don’t know about anybody else, but I carry these cards to avoid having to cut and keep track of coupons or watch for specials. I have one for everyplace I shop, I am not more loyal to one or the other- shouldn’t these cards just be called what they are- discount cards?

  2. Bravo Plumsoup! I couldn’t agree more with your comments. I despise the idea of clipping, tracking, and redeeming coupons – and the ‘loyalty’ cards seem to serve no other purpose than to provide a discount. I have had the same experience with them; I receive no special ‘rewards’ and no targeted promotions based on my buying behaviors. Frankly, there is very little in terms of a retention barrier that would prevent me from shopping the competition.

    While so many companies have jumped on board the loyalty train, why do so few of them actually get it right?

    Robert G. Howard
    ClearBrick LLC

  3. The bit of the world that I live in (Dubai) isn’t quite there yet…but is catching up…at speed! The bandwagon is rolling! You must have one to survive as a business..mustn’t you?
    When I have calculated the value back from some of the big banks schemes(global and local brands) they appear insignificant to the point of insulting. I’m not sensitive about giving my personal data way, but at that price?
    I tend to have affairs with outlets rather than a marriage. When the affair has lost it’s sparkle, I look for a new one. However, I do have very long term affairs, but these are based on the old fashioned idea of consistent product, friendly interactions, pleasant environment and value for money. None of these ‘affairs’ have loyalty cards at present. They seem to do good business and don’t seem to need them.
    When returning to the UK, I do enjoy the look of amazement on the check-out staffs face in Tesco’s, when I roll up with a cart load of goods that I can’t get here in Dubai, and tell them I don’t have a card and don’t wish to join the club. So deeply ingrained is the card into the process (and culture) that confusion breaks out. I am happy that a small slice of me isn’t owned by Tesco’s. I also get an opportunity to provide whomever is behind me in the queue, with a random act of kindness by giving them my points. Quite satisfying all round.
    I guess it’s time I bought another wallet and prepared myself for the other version of reality that’s coming my way.
    Sean Taylor

  4. I have strong feelings about these cards. They actually make me hate the companies that require me to have them to get any kind of sale price. The supermarkets in my area are diabolical about them. To me, it conveys the message that that company wants not only my money, but to know everything about me, which feels excessive. And, aren’t loyalty programs supposed to emotionally connect the company to their customers? These cards do the opposite for me!
    Thanks for raising this issue!


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