Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pointless Points Programs

Everywhere I go I get hounded to sign-up for points programs. Points programs are nothing more than a slick marketing campaign called loyalty marketing. Loyalty marketing is part of an even bigger marketing ploy, one which is very evil, which threatens us all.

First, these points programs are so pointless to begin with, I wonder why so many people sign-up? Perhaps it is due to those pesky cashiers, always pushing them? I was just at the local supermarket today, and the cashier wouldn’t let me leave without at least taking the brochure for the points program. I had to tell her I really wasn’t interested at least half-a-dozen or more times just to escape.

And all I really went in for was a handful of groceries!

This points program is like many others, you earn points for everything you buy at that particular store. In this case, one dollar for every dollar spent. Sounds like a good deal, until you read on – for every 500 points, you get $10 off your purchase. That means you have to spend $500 to get $10 – or for me, that’s about three-months worth of groceries to get a petty $10 discount.

What does the local supermarket get? Aside from your continued business, they require your name, address, phone number, age, number of kids in your house, number of people in your house, total household income – and a bunch of other information which they claim they will never sell or rent to anyone “outside their own family of businesses.”

They may honour their claim to never sell or rent their demographic information, but rest assured, they are making money off of having all that data somehow.

They can use that information to personally call you up and offer you great deals on things which you most likely would buy, based on your profile.

As you continue to use the card, and swipe it every time you shop, you build a bigger profile, as they can track everything you buy to you. That means, the one time you go out and buy that can of whatchmacallit just to try it out, could lead to coupons suddenly appearing at your door encouraging you to buy more. Or worse, as they know it is the first time you have bought this, you could get some college kid calling you up, wanting to conduct a survey about that one product. Maybe you just accidentally grabbed the wrong can off the shelf, and didn’t even mean to buy it – but that nosey kid will still call.

This kind of information helps the stores, they know which products to stock and which ones not too. But it leads down a very windy road of trap doors, where personal information becomes all growing, and all knowing.

Do you really want a bunch of strangers knowing what kind of toilet paper you use? What if you happen to have a medical condition which you’d rather not talk about? Drugstores have these points programs too, and that rather embarrassing rash you had once will appear on your profile, just because you had to purchase a prescription cream.

Air Miles is probably the biggest program of its kind in the country, and they sell their lists to all those companies that give you rewards and points. Think about all the gas stations, utility companies, even the media knows where you live, how old you are and what kind of underwear you prefer – most give points for subscribing to their papers, satellite radio stations and even when you enter their online contests.

And all you get in return? About $10 for every $500 spent!

Not only should you feel ripped off, you should feel quite naked. Just imagine all those strangers at all the companies all over the world who know more about you than you think you know about yourself.

My advice is simple, and something I’ve been practicing since these programs started – don’t sign-up. Do not fill in those rewards cards applications, and don’t use those rewards programs. The only people benefiting off those programs is the clever and evil marketing genius that invented it, and the businesses which use it.

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