Are You Overdosing On Supermarket Loyalty Cards?

Just about anyone who has been into a chain grocery store in the last decade is familiar with loyalty programs — and the little barcode cards that can quickly clog up your wallet and/or key chain. But one Consumerist reader thinks it’s time for supermarkets to rethink these programs and just pass the savings on to everyone.

“My wife now has loyalty keyfobs on her keyring outnumbering keys almost 2:1,” writes H., who dreads those times when he forgets to bring the stash of cards with him when he makes a grocery run. And since they have so many of these cards, not all of them are correctly tied to his or his wife’s phone number, meaning the cashier can’t look up the cards using that info.

“When I find myself in that state I simply want to pay my ‘just dues’ and buy my stuff and get on with life,” says H.

But he finds that cashiers are not always willing to let him get away without joining the loyalty program.

“The other day as I was checking out at Vons I failed to provide my card,” he writes. “The cashier asked if I had a Vons card. I lied and said ‘No’ (because I simply wanted to go home before the butter melted). She didn’t seem satisfied so she asked ‘Are you on vacation?’ I looked at her and said ‘No.’ She pointed out that she wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing some possibility to save a few extra cents.”

He asks, “Why not just give everyone the discount and dispense with tracking my every move with your card?”

And that’s exactly the point, as a good part of the value of these cards to supermarkets is the ability to track regular shoppers’ habits. They also can lock people into becoming perpetual customers through the use of rewards points. So it’s in a grocery store’s own interest to get these cards in as many customers’ hands as possible.

(On a side note: The CDC has used supermarket loyalty cards to track a salmonella outbreak, while the USPS used them to return someone’s lost keys.)

But the problem happens when every store offers the exact same kind of loyalty programs. It takes away any incentive to shop at any one store, and requires you to make extra room on your key chain.

“The fact that I can have an unlimited collection of ‘loyalty’ cards from every single grocery in this town indicates that it only serves to make sure I’m annoyed when I try to get out of the store without presenting the plastic key to leave,” writes H.

So who can win over these customers who want discounts but don’t want to be overwhelmed with plastic fobs?

“We have found a couple of local smaller chains that don’t bother with the card system,” says H. “I’m growing more fond of them by the day!”

Feel free to use the comments to talk up your favorite — and least favorite — rewards programs, and why they do or don’t work for you.

Comments

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  1. Ilovegnomes says:

    My husband has a smartphone app that allows you to scan any of these cards (including library card) and hold them digitally on your phone. Then when you need them, you just bring that card/barcode up on the app and let the checker scan it. It thinned out his wallet big time.

    • longfeltwant says:

      I think it was The Consumerist who once mentioned a tip on how to look up a loyalty card by phone number: use the local area code with 867-5309, and it will almost always match to a card set up by someone else. I’ve done this myself, with pretty good success.

      • Actionable Mango says:

        Jenny’s number used to work at my local Safeway with two different local area codes, but the number has been blacklisted or something. Now it just comes up as an invalid number.

    • wombats lives in [redacted] says:

      Please ask him what he’s using I checked the play store and found a lot but didn’t decide which to use.

    • TotallyCrazy says:

      I’m quite curious in knowing what the app is called.

  2. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    If you don’t have one at the register, usually you can just ask the checker to scan theirs. They’ll do it, especially if there are rewards for cents off gasoline or something like that since they’ll get the points.

    Also, King of the Big Evil Retailers Walmart has no loyalty card program (although they do offer gasoline discounts if you use their branded VISA card).

    • elangomatt says:

      The two stores I shop at the most won’t do this at all. One of them actually had signs up a while back saying that they “WILL NOT give sale prices without your card”.

      I am tired of the whole shopper card thing, too many cards in my wallet!

    • Shadowfire says:

      If the cashier is caught they will be fired. Especially if there are rewards like the gas points you mentioned.

      • frank64 says:

        In my area all the stores that have these cards will scan a store one if you don’t have a card, they are : Shaws, Stop and Shop, Price Chopper and I believe Big Y. When they first started they were more strict.

        I remember at Price Chopper they started enforcing the card to get sale items, I didn’t know it and ended up leaving everything on the counter. Mumblings by the woman indicated I wasn’t the only one who did this. I stopped shopping there.

        • RandomHookup says:

          Ask another shopper… for most stores, it’s not a problem, though CVS lets you store your rewards on your card, so that can cause the rewards to go to your order.

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        I guess it depends on the store and the manager. I’ve not had a problem with anyone refusing to scan their own card at any of the places I frequent.

        • RandomHookup says:

          I’m guessing it’s a courtesy card they keep at the register … not the person’s personal card (which will actually give an employee discount). Stores won’t let cashiers do things that could get them in an ethical bind (like keeping the really valuable coupons that sometimes print out of the Catalina machine).

    • madrigal says:

      My friend got fired for this at a Winn Dixie years ago.

    • uscgamecock says:

      Please don’t ask your cashier to scan their personal card. This is an immediately terminatable offense at some retailers, including the one I work for. Instead, ask if they can scan the store’s supervisor card which every store should have.

  3. SisterMaryPollyEsther says:

    There’s always Super Walmart. They have low prices without loyalty cards. The tradeoff? You have to shop at Super Walmart. The remote/rural ones aren’t that bad, but I have to steel myself to enter one in the city.

    • Balthazaar says:

      I’m sure it varies by locale, but at least at the Walmarts around me, prices at Walmart on food items is noticeably higher than at even the “premium” grocery store chains… and knowing what I know about Walmart’s inventory control, I wouldn’t trust any food purchases I were to make there.

  4. ashtonn4 says:

    I like that Kroger gives you discounts on gas depending on how much you spend there. My families cards are linked so I end up saving around 50 cents per gallon a month or more which is nice.

    I’ve got at least 5 cards on my keychain…they are small and don’t bother me at all. For people who don’t have a card, I’ve always seen Kroger ask the next person in line for theirs so the customer still gets the savings.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      I have a single, separate keychain for my cards. It works and its easy to pass on to a friend, mom, brother, whoever. Also, if I lose it, I’ve only lost the cards.

      • Not Given says:

        Ditto, I keep it in my change purse.

        • Tamena says:

          same here – it’s the key chain with my house key on it, car keys are separate! Since the house is rarely locked it works out well…keys are always in my bag =)

          I also use to have the Key Ring app though and used it on my old phone but the problem with it is that a lot of scanners won’t read the barcode on the phone screen and the cashier would have to type in the numbers.

  5. Sad Sam says:

    I hate all of these programs. I also hate grocery shopping so when I’m in a grocery store, I am already annoyed. Then when I go to check out, there are just too many hoops. Just let me check out and leave. Frankly, I don’t even care if I have to pay more, just stop asking me 20 questions. Question # 1,do you have a loyalty card? No. #2, would you like one, you can save XYZ? No. #3, are you sure, you are missing out on blah, blah blah. #4 would you like to donate to charity XYZ today? Etc, etc, etc.

    I feel like so many retail establishments are failing to serve their customers and in fact are much more focused on serving their corporate headquarters. This is why I prefer Mom and Pop stores or shopping on-line.

    • raydeebug says:

      I try to always visit the nearest grocery store that lacks a loyalty program–they’re a rare bird these days.

      But yes. When I worked at a job where I had to shill the company loyalty card, my performance was rated *almost entirely* on my ability to sell the loyalty card. And it wasn’t one of the free ones either. :/

    • balderdashed says:

      I hate ‘em, too, and the idea of being “loyal” to a grocery store strikes me as absurd to begin with. If I’ve said no once, to ask again is boorish — I don’t care if you’re being paid to do so. Personally, I’ve found the best way to deal with a barrage of “are you sure?” questions is to ignore them. If you keep saying no, you’ll typically get another “are you sure?” or “do you realize how much you could save?” etc. But silence works wonders — clerks typically have no idea what to do when their questions do not receive any reply or acknowledgment, and soon the sales pitch stops.

  6. lobsterssss says:

    Stop and Shop (at least around here) swipes a card for you if you don’t have one. I try to bring mine though, for the gas points/milk points/whatever program they happen to be running.

  7. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    My Weis card keeps track of gas points and you get 10 cents off per gallon for every $50 in grocery purchases (excluding milk and a few other items), and 10 cents off per gallon when you get a prescription filled at their pharmacy.

    I keep their full sized card in my wallet with my credit cards, not a big deal, and the rest of my cards sit in the front of my coupon organizer.

    I don’t have a problem with this. I’m just glad I can save a buck or two!

  8. longfeltwant says:

    I specifically shop at Woodman’s grocery store here in Wisconsin because they don’t use these stupid cards. I once went out of my way to email them and ask them to never start a loyalty program. Woodmans FTW!

  9. Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

    These cards are just a way for the stores to track you and get additional info on you. I HATE THEM. Back in the day, stores had something called a “sale”. These specially reduced prices were available to anyone. You did not need to give them your address, phone number, number of children, etc to get these prices. I recently filled out an application for one of these cards that had 3 spaces for number of people in household. Yes, room for from 100-999 to be entered.

    When they first came out I refused to sign up and the cashiers had generic cards to give me the discount. When they pushed me to sign up, I always stated the same reason, particularly to female cashiers in a voice load enough to be heard by the people next to me, not whispering but not yelling:

    I do not want (insert store name here) tracking when my wife has yeast infections.

    When they say they don’t do that, then I ask them why do they need all my personal information before giving me the $2 off a tube of Vagisil.

    • longfeltwant says:

      I was once challenged by a cashier who said “I don’t understand why people refuse to get the card”. I said “I don’t refuse; I decline.”

      But the Vagisil line is better: “Ma’am, with the quantity of extra-strong condoms and anal lube I buy, I wouldn’t want my purchases to be tracked, considering we live in a red state. You never know what law the Republicans might pass next year.”

    • Scooter McGee says:

      Guess what, if you’re paying with plastic, you’re still being tracked. The only way out of it is to pay with cash. Or only shop at mom & pop stores that don’t have the technology for it.

  10. Auron says:

    I am a huge fan of the SuperAmerica’s (local gas station chain) loyalty program. You earn points for buying most merchandise as well as gas. Every Tuesday they double gas coupons, and with x number of points, you can get discounts of $.10, $.25, or $.50 off per gallon (doubled to $.20, $,50, and $1).

  11. triana says:

    You get points at Speedway that add up to free stuff. I earn free coffee, Mountain Dew, Reese’s Cups, and milk because they have a “club” for each and I buy those things at least fairly regularly. Prices there are the same as any other convenience store, so it’s worth it to stay loyal and get free stuff that I ‘d buy anyway.

    • KnightCrusader says:

      Yeah, and their credit card makes those points add up like crazy. I had one (they closed it during the recession even though I was current and never late), and I’ve gotten at least a few free $100 gas cards over the years. Right now I am sitting on about 120,000 pts I need to cash in…

  12. generic user says:

    You can make up just about any phone number for the clerk and it will get you the discount.. (408) 777-7777 (taxi line!) works at most stores by me, as does (408) 867-5309.. And not a single clerk has asked me if my name is Jenny.

    • Tamena says:

      most cashiers aren’t old enough to recognize the reference anymore and you’re OK as long as you don’t sing the damned number =)

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        I used it just a couple of days ago at Party City and the cashier knew exactly what I was doing. He kind of laughed. Then he asked for my email I just said “Uh, No.” He knew it was stupid and we both started singing the Jenny song.

        I was lucky I guess that I got a cool, older dude.

  13. MarvelaCachu says:

    I only get cards where the application doesn’t include a “I’m telling the truth” clause that you have to sign. I fill them out with what ever information I feel like at the moment. I keep them all on a separate ring on my key ring & take it off when I need to downsize for an evening purse.

    • NickRayko says:

      +1.

      My cards scan as Harry Balzac. Only a few cashiers have reacted noticeably (all smirking or laughing as they told me how much I’d saved).

    • frank64 says:

      As far as I know all the places that have loyalty cards ask for license or ID.

  14. vliam says:

    As I drive home from work, there’s only one grocery on the right hand side of the road (the most convenient side to zip in and out). They have some loyalty card nonsense there. So, I usually find myself going out of my way to avoid the use of the stupid things.

  15. bunnysgal says:

    Just please don’t be rude to the check-out person when they ask you about the card. In some stores, they can be penalized to the point of losing their jobs if they scan their own card. If you have an issue with having to carry a card, and the cashier cannot easily accommodate you, escalate your issue to a manager or ideally even further up the chain by contacting the retailer’s main office.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      Thanks for pointing this out. It’s not the poor cashier’s fault that you are bombarded with questions. It’s not his or her main goal in life to make you miserable; their management demands they ask these questions. I wish more people understood this.

    • Jane_Gage says:

      That shit’s not gonna fly in Nuremberg.

  16. braum says:

    The version of this I like is the one from Lowe’s Home Improvement stores. When you provide your telephone number or key card and make a purchase. You can return or exchange anything on the receipt without the receipt. I think Home Depot does this as well but I’ve never found their return process as easy or forgiving as Lowe’s is now.

  17. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Easy solution: Always use the phone number (Area Code) 867-5309.

    It will likely work in every county, in every state, for any loyalty program that only needs your phone number to gain access.

    Recent use: Albertson’s in Jacksoin, WY while on vacation in Yellowstone. Worked with no troubles.

    • MarkFL says:

      This only works up to the point where the cashier punches in that number, and then 200 cards come up with the same phone number.

  18. Banished to the Corner says:

    This is one of the reasons I love Trader Joe’s. None of this garbage. Of course, as soon as I find something I really love, they stop stocking it, but that’s another bit of fun of Trader Joe’s – what can I find today? :-)

    • longfeltwant says:

      Just in case you haven’t discovered them yet, I have two of Joe’s products to recommend. The first is vanilla Jo Jo cookies, which are the best cream-sandwich cookies I’ve ever had, even better than Oreo, which normally wins all comparisons. The second is Cookie Butter, which is some kind of foreign magical substance which seems like a nut butter but contains no nuts at all.

  19. Cacao says:

    The big scandal at Ranch 99, a chain of Asian grocery stores, is that cashiers will scan their cards instead of yours when you pay, getting all your points. Tsk tsk tsk.

    • triana says:

      Staples has a rewards program, and had a separate employee rewards program which was WAY better. A cashier got caught scanning his own card when a customer didn’t have one. He had no idea those huge rewards checks he got (basically a gift certificate from all of the points earned) would catch anyone’s attention.

      He obviously got fired.

  20. Cacao says:

    Also, this.

    • longfeltwant says:

      Good lord I’m glad I’m rich enough not to worry about shekels like that. I’d bother if I were poor, but being middle class comes with the luxury of buying a little bit of sanity.

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        Since I live in a rural area, and have one grocery store locally that has a loyalty card, and one gas station chain. I keep my CVS card with my coupons, and all my other loyalty cards are put away since the stores are located 35 miles in either direction. I can’t imagine having so many loyalty cards!

  21. Shadowfire says:

    I work for a certain high-priced national grocery chain who recently lost over half of its stock value. We use loyalty cards. Our products have some of the highest prices, which is a common complaint from customers.

    Two of our competitors, Hannaford and Market Basket, do not have loyalty cards, and are significantly cheaper than us and obviously less of a hassle to shop in.

    What I’m trying to say is: screw loyalty cards.

    • NickRayko says:

      So, you work for Shaw’s?

      • frank64 says:

        I guessed that too! In my town they are pretty dead most of the time. We have to many better choices.

        • Shadowfire says:

          I can neither confirm nor deny the suggestion of where I work.

          Suffice to say our store is dead and our company’s sales have been dropping for years. That’s nothing you can’t find out from our fiscal reports, though. Also, our CEO has just been replaced, and that news was enough for our stock to bounce up $.25 (a far cry from the $3.00 it lost during the quarterly earnings call, but still an improvement).

          • frank64 says:

            I understand, and wouldn’t have even posted a guess if not in a reply. It was just a guess.

            Whatever your company is, why don’t they do something about prices, I assume that they realize they are not competitive(from what you are saying)? If their cost structure is so high, then they should either close down or do something about it? I

            As far as Shaws goes, we have a Big Y opening across the street from them, I expect that they would have to close down as they are so slow now.

            • Shadowfire says:

              The stock response is “we need to worry about shrink before we lower prices,” which ignores the fact that a good majority of the shrink is from stuff not selling and being tossed (well, mostly donated, but still). Publicly? “We are making every effort to lower prices and become a cost competitor” is the message. It’s false, but that’s business…

    • NickRayko says:

      Also, Hannaford’s does have a card program, unless the store in Wells, ME, is running it as an independent entity.

      • Shadowfire says:

        Oooh they started the ecoupon thing. No idea how that affects their pricing.

        • RandomHookup says:

          They have it, but it’s not mandatory to get the sales prices (at least at my store). You get occasional Catalina offers if you use it, but no discounts … yet.

  22. Jacob says:

    I get that stores want to track people, but there are other ways they can do that without using a loyalty card. Most people (that are worth tracking) use credit cards for purchases, so just use information off the credit card to track people. I’m pretty sure Target does something like this, because they print out coupons for me that match very well with my previous purchases.

    • pegasi says:

      I “cured” my ID so Target cannot swipe it for any 18 or over purchases. why do they need anything besides my birthdate to purchase alcoholic beverages? Swipe my ID… won’t work, sorry! And their registers can’t scan the other 2 barcodes embedded in the license, so they get stuck asking for a manager override.

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        If you don’t mind, how did you cure it?

        • Banished to the Corner says:

          I use my passport card. It contains my picture, name, place of birth, date of birth, but no address/phone. And, Target’s computers aren’t programed to scan it.

          I don’t drive and when I last renewed my passport, it had the option for the card (good for Mexico, Canada, and the Carribbean). It lasts 10 years and is cheaper then state ID. Also, I noticed that when I travel, TSA seems to have an easier time with it than my state ID.

  23. Jacob says:

    If stores don’t want to get rid of their loyalty cards, I wish they would give you stickers of the loyalty barcode to apply to another card that I would keep in my wallet anyway.

  24. raydeebug says:

    My grocery store of choice, Shoppers Food Warehouse, does not have a membership program at all. Whatever we don’t pick up from Costco, we usually get at Shoppers–the lack of a stupid card is one of the reasons I prefer going there. SFW, don’t ever change!

    I have tons of those stupid keychain things for other places though, from the petstore where we get our cat food to places that are out of business or not in the region where I now live, and pulling them out is always a pain. :/

  25. Coleoptera Girl says:

    I don’t mind the discount cards, its the credit cards I hate. They push them really hard sometimes, too. If I wanted a credit card, I’d get one from my bank, thank you very much.

  26. AngryK9 says:

    When one of those cashiers attempts to rope me into a loyalty card that I don’t want, I say no one time. If they insist, I give them a choice. They can either forget about it, ring my stuff up and get on with life, or I can walk away, leaving everything right there, and let them worry about putting it away while I go to a competitor.

    • lobsterssss says:

      I’ve seen people get banned for doing that. No need to be a dick to the cashier, they’re doing their job.

  27. ODaddyO says:

    The nearest Albertson’s let me have a card without providing any info when they started their program. I have used it for years only because they do not have my info. It’s inconvenient always paying cash.
    Anywhere else, I nearly always will ask for an application and they’ll scan it and give me the paperwork to fill out, which I then drop in the trash on the way out the store. If they insist I immediately fill it out, my ability to generate fake information comes into play.
    I also use my in-laws phone number and the 867-5309 works in many places as well.

    I refuse to pimp myself out to save a few cents here and there. Until they tie DNA information to the loyalty programs, there are ways to get around them.

  28. jrobertdark says:

    I hate these cards, and I am not alone:

    nocards.org

    I never shop anyplace that makes me use a card. “Loyalty” card programs make me loyal to anyone who doesn’t make me use one.

  29. frank64 says:

    They really don’t save us any money. They don’t give discounts they weren’t giving as sale items before hand. The one store in my area that doesn’t use them is the least expensive, so that is my favorite: Market Basket. I remember reading an article by a newspapers that compared buying thanksgiving dinner taking into account reward programs. Shaws that gave a free turkey after accumulating points, but you ended up paying a lot more for that dinner as compared to Market Basket and all other stores, even with the “free” turkey.

    When I go to other stores, I just tell them I don’t have the rewards card and they scan in a store one for me.

  30. settsu says:

    You’re not so much getting a discount, as selling your personal shopping habits. (And, besides, the reductions are probably on high margin items anyhow…)

  31. westcoast23 says:

    I started paying attention to grocery store loyalty programs recently and am pretty surprised at how much I’ve saved, but obviously hate the tracking element of it. I have one fake name (my favorite 80’s TV character)/phone number I always use and have never given out an address or any accurate personal info. I do hate that the stores browbeat those who aren’t interested into joining the loyalty programs though… it’s obnoxious, not to mention the fact that I figure that the people who are willing to pony up the exorbitant prices for everyday groceries are ultimately helping me get mine for a fraction of the cost. I’ve always refused to put any store discount tags on my keychain and carry them around in a little zippered pouch — don’t know why I’ve never thought of giving them their own keychain, an idea I will be applying imminently.

  32. Rivercat says:

    I don’t mind loyalty cards in general. The ones I use most (Safeway, CVS and Petco) have actually saved me a bunch of money over time. I just wish they weren’t all red.

  33. Nathan Oliver says:

    Doesn’t solve the privacy issues, but if you’re just looking to cut down on keychain bulk, take a look at http://www.justoneclubcard.com/ — it lets you generate a single card with barcodes for up to 8 different stores.

  34. ogremustcrush says:

    I’m glad I live in an area with Winco (actually, my city is their headquarters.) Typically the lowest prices other than Costco, and no loyalty card to boot. It seems that anything that doesn’t have a loyalty card discount at those other stores are stupid expensive anyway, so I tend to just avoid them except for quick convenience trips when I need something small.

    • ProfS says:

      Love Winco! Sadly, I moved to the Midwest and cannot enjoy it anymore. I have yet to find a store with a bulk section that even begins to compare to Winco.

  35. Mr X says:

    I think I can remember three phone numbers, thanks to my addiction to Android phones. One phone number is from my main high school squeeze from 15 years ago. I live 50 miles away from her old house. Her folks who had the phone number passed away years ago. I use her number because I can remember it more easily than my own and I hate giving companies marketing information!

  36. Incredulousgirl says:

    Awhile back I found out that my Dominick’s card worked at Jewel (Chicago area). I wonder if they are all run by the same info collecting company?

  37. f1nnbar says:

    I photocopy the barcodes on my cards and paste them into my checkbook. This way I can carry a dozen with virtual no added thickness to the checkbook/calendar book I carry everyday.

    Haven’t had a store cry foul yet.

  38. MarkFL says:

    The reason the stores want to do this is to (a) to track what you shop and customize their marketing to you, (b) get your contact info so they can e-mail (or postal mail) marketeing to you, (c) to make some money off customers who don’t use the card enough to justify the cost, if it’s not a free card, or (d) some combination of both.

    Sometimes the discounts are worthwhile — when I worked at the bookstore it really did save a lot of money for our regulars, even though they paid for the card. But not everyone buys enough to make it worthwhile.

    But I agree with the others who said don’t give the cashiers grief. In most cases, they are expected to make a quota of cards per shift, or at least per week, and if they don’t make the quota, they can be written up or terminated. While we’re at it, don’t blame the store managers, either, because I’m sure they are also getting heat from above when the store doesn’t reach its goal, and the suits don’t care that its December in Florida and 40-50 percent of the customers are tourists who don’t live near one of your locations.

    I’d note that Publix (supermarket in the Southeast) is doing better than most in the face of competition from Wal-Mart, and they don’t use the card — they just put stuff on sale for everyone.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      “they are expected to make a quota of cards per shift, or at least per week”

      Does corporate headquarters expect them to sign up, let’s say, 100 customers per week? Does corporate headquarters think the store can keep signing up people for cards at the same rate week after week, month after month and year after year? After a period of time, most of the people who live in an area will have already gotten the card and a constant signup rate will be an impossibility (just like banking profits, no matter how much the banks want them to increase, there WILL come a time when it is impossible to grow them at ever increasing rates).

      • Powerlurker says:

        The metric is typically the percentage of transactions processed with the card.

      • MarkFL says:

        The formula depends on the company. Where I worked it was based on a percentage of sales — that is, a certain percentage of sales, based on dollars, had to be from discount cards. (The exact percentage varied during the time I was there.) Other companies base it on a certain number of cards per transaction.

        There is a certain degree of saturation, but if there is a fee for the card, it usually has to be renewed annually. And renewals are usually easier than signing up new members.

    • 85% Real 15% Filler says:

      seriously?

    • hagiograph says:

      I actually utilize my “customer loyalty” card with a bookseller, and I have no real issue with loyalty programs per se, however, the sheer volume of these programs and the fact that many grocery stores seem to want me to feel “irresponsible” and poorly prepared when I want to check out without “showing my papers” is bothersome to me. I have no problem with their great savings, but in the case of grocery stores of which there is one about every 3 blocks or so in my town (apparently) having a “loyalty program” which is non-exclusive (in other words I can have loyalty programs at all of them) indicates that due to proximity I could just go to any of them. It means nothing other than to provide the store with a good handle on my shopping. If I wanted more “targetted” advertising to myself I’m sure I’d be able to achieve that. I kind of want less advertising and less hassle when I go shopping.

      And I don’t really want them asking me if I’m “on vacation” just because I showed up at the store without my proper plastic pass!

      • MarkFL says:

        We didn’t ask if people were on vacation. People would often just say that as a reason for not signing up. Not that we asked for a reason. Also, in my area there were a lot of seasonal residents, so trying them to sign them up in the spring was hopeless. I even suggested to my DM that we should have an option for a six-month card at a reduced price, but she said she had already suggested that to home office and it was shot down.

  39. mrscoach says:

    I didn’t even know grocery stores still had reward cards because I haven’t been to one in years that does. I consider myself lucky.

  40. mgchan says:

    For anyone that concerned about a store tracking their grocery buying habits, just politely decline. “No, and I don’t wish to join” will typically be enough. Sometimes you have to say “No thanks” again. It’s the cashier’s job to ask you. Or if you really don’t want to join and have the option, use the self check out. That way you don’t have to have any human interaction at all.

    All grocery stores I’ve been to have provided the option of using a phone number instead of carrying a card. I don’t carry any loyalty cards with me. I just type in my Google Voice number and get the discounts. It’s usually more than a few extra cents, usually closer to about 10%. I don’t shop often and end up buying more at once, but it would still add up. I don’t mind giving out a number I don’t use to sign up and save.

    I know, I’m opening myself up to Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt identifying when I’ll be visiting that store next and how long I’ll spend in the dairy section, but I’m willing to take that chance.

  41. Rexy does not like the new system says:

    Wow, a lot of hate. I love my card (King Soopers – essentially Kroger + name brand) as it gives me discounts on gas (I’ve gotten up to $1 / gallon off) and coupons can be loaded online right to the card. They have my real name, address, and phone number and I’ve yet to get a single call, paper mail, or email.

    • hjc628 says:

      They never call us, but they do send us really REALLY good coupons for things we buy normally. Its really nice.

    • AzCatz07 says:

      I like the ability to add coupons to my cards (I primarily do this with Safeway and Fry’s), but I don’t carry the actual cards around. I just put in my phone number.

    • hagiograph says:

      It’s not “hate” per se. It’s more of the concept that when I fail to have my card (which happens enough to me that I am now self-conscious when I get to the check out) the helpful cashiers have to resort to asking me if I have some “excuse” (“are you on vacation?”) to explain why I’m so irresponsible as to not expend every effort to save 15 cents on a loaf of sourdough bread this week.

      I honestly feel bad about my poor planning. It makes going to the grocery store just that much more unpleasant.

  42. Rhinoguy says:

    I had six cards from six stores. I kept them in my wallet instead of my keyring so they wouldn’t make my ring too big to fit in my pocket. Then I realized that each store would only read it’s own bar code. So I scanned all of them and printed them onto a single piece of card stock (a 3 X5) which I cut to the size of a credit card. Now I have a single card and I can print on the back too.
    That’s a whole lot of effort to be lazy, eh?

  43. HogwartsProfessor says:

    My Dillons thing is on my keyring; they will return my keys if lost. I only use it for in-store specials. Most of them aren’t that great, but once in a while they are okay. It’s a more expensive store, so I don’t shop there much. I do use it at the pharmacy.

    Anymore, especially on unemployment, I’ve been shopping at ALDI or Save-A-Lot. They still have milk for under $3 a gallon. At least, until the effect of the drought kicks in.

  44. offtopic says:

    Op – Easy to get around this – just remember Jenny’s number – 867-5309. It works every time.

    • Murph1908 says:

      Yep. Add your area code if you are at a store that has locations where you live. Add the local area code if you are away from home at a store that’s not located in your area. Somebody in that area code has set Jenny up.

      I do this all the time. It’s fun to see how much she has saved year to date.

  45. hymie! says:
    • RoguePisigit says:

      Beat me to it! I’ve been using this site for years, and it’s great to have just one card to stick behind my credit card in my wallet.

  46. eimer123 says:

    Almost everyone now and days has a smart phone. They have apps like Key Ring Rewards Cards that allows you to scan your rewards card bar code. Then all you have to do is bring up the app and BAM! you have your rewards card.

  47. duncanblackthorne says:

    Guess what? I have exactly ZERO of these cards. Why? I don’t consent to having my purchasing habits tracked by the stores that offer them. Why do you?

    Purchase everything with cash, everywhere you go, and maintain your privacy.

    Your privacy is valuable; don’t let anybody tell you different!

    • Powerlurker says:

      Most people do it in exchange for discounts.

    • Starfury says:

      Who says you have to tell the truth when you sign up? Make up a name/address/phone number and you’re all set.

      Think how much fun it would be when you’re at Safeway and they say “Thank you Batman, you saved $ today!”

    • eccsame says:

      Exactly, Starfury. My name is Algebra Timepants and my address is 345 Fakington Way on every card I have. It doesn’t concern me in the least that Safeway knows that Mr. Timepants likes plain yogurt and pretzels.

  48. polishhillbilly says:

    My rewards accounts are in my dogs names
    And with the phone number of time and temperature here locally.
    Staples, krogers, office depot.
    He does get a lot of junk mail, some are great coupons.

    • Kate Blue says:

      And you know what? The store still achieved it’s goal of tracking your purchases and customizing coupon offers for you – so what if it’s not the right name, it’s still the right consumer.

      • I look at both sides of the story says:

        “And you know what? The store still achieved it’s goal of tracking your purchases and customizing coupon offers for you – so what if it’s not the right name, it’s still the right consumer.”

        I use several different cards for the same store (all bogus names and numbers) and I only use the card if there’s a discount on an item. Otherwise I say I don’t have a card. Another option is to use a neighbor’s phone number that shops at that store.

  49. giax says:

    I have two supermarket cards I guess – Costco (can’t really shop there without it) and Randalls. We shop at Randalls about once every year or two, and we’re always amazed how much cheaper our usual groceries are when compared to Randalls. E.g. a bottle of a local Texan wine at Randalls being $12.49, with card and coupon $10.50, if you buy six and with card and coupon, $10.10, whereas in the other grocery the same bottle is about $8.40, no card and no coupon needed.

  50. ap0 says:

    All the stores here just take a phone number. I just use my parents’ phone number. I don’t really care about the rewards. They get a big discount on gas, too, so I figure the more I spend for them, the more they get. I have no intention of registering for them.

    My favorite is $5/2 lbs. blueberries right now instead of about $9. I wish blueberries were in season all year round.

  51. makoto says:

    There is an iphone app that will hold all your loyalty cards for you (not kidding).

    Before you all get hyped up on this topic, please keep in mind that these corporations force cashiers to “not be satisfied with no.” As in… cashiers at my store are reviewed 75% on their enrollment status for these cards. EVERY customer that says no and a transaction goes without a card scanned results in a shorter future, less pay and possibly termination for that cashier. Just keep that in mind when you say “no” with an attitude next time, please. I and my fellow associates bother the shit out of you because we have to because if we don’t we are punished. Please don’t take it out on us.

    • luxosaucer13 says:

      I used to be in a similar situation, but not with loyalty cards. If the company i used to work for didn’t sell enough of product ‘X’ or service ‘Y’, the suits would let us know in no uncertain terms; we were just numbers to them, hired to push something, anything, just to make a sale. It was all just a numbers game and management never cared about what the customers wanted or really needed. We were never encouraged to give the customers a quality experience; just sell them something, the more the better, and get them on their way. As a result, customer satisfaction was in the toilet and our return/exchange rate was stratospheric. We lived in constant fear that the current month was going to be our last on the job if we didn’t meet some metric the district manager seemingly pulled out of her backside. The only way to be successful there was to act like a used-car salesman, with the viewpoint that the customer was merely a cash register…..just open it and take the money. I got to the point after a while that I really didn’t care whether or not I achieved the company’s ridiculous metrics and moved on.

      Luckily I found employment with a company in the same industry that really cares about the customer experience (and their employees) and has a customer needs-based selling system, not merely a numbers-based one. Our returns/exchanges are far less than the other company’s and our customer loyalty and satisfaction are much higher too. We’re not “punished” for not meeting a particular arbitrary metric, either, and we don’t live in perpetual fear of losing our jobs. We don’t just keep “throwing” stuff at the customer, hoping they will buy something; we get to know our customers and sell them what they tell us they need or want, because of what matters to them. As long as we follow those guidelines, we’re doing our jobs in the eyes of management. According to a leading consumer publication, we rate the highest in customer satisfaction and quality in our field.

      If one is ever in a position that what management wants comes at the expense of the customer experience, then they need a change of venue, if at all possible.

  52. JonBoy470 says:

    To quote The Steve’s tired cliche: There’s an app for that. It’s called Keyring. Come September 12 (or whenever our benevolent fruit masters grace us with iOS 6) [rolls eyes] iPhone’s will have Passbook built-in, which incorporates loyalty cards as well as gift cards, movie tickets, airline boarding passes and so on, with context-sensitive location-based functionality e.g. your CVS Extracare card pops up on the lock screen when you walk into the store, and your boarding pass appears when you get to the airport, etc…

    As for the privacy angle (I don’t want Store X tracking what I buy!) give it up. You’re deluded if you think you have any privacy. Unless you’re a hermit living in a cave, you leave fingerprints, both literal and figurative, everywhere you go. A veritable mountain of data. Your only solace is that you’re too unimportant to actually go to the trouble to sift through all that data for anything other than trying to sell you stuff you might actually want to buy as opposed to random assortments of stuff you may or may not be interested in.

  53. briguy17 says:

    My advice is just find a phone number that works–even if it’s not yours. I have found funny numbers such as 822-2222, 555-1234, 567-0123, and 555-5555 have worked with my local area code.

  54. TheUncleBob says:

    Slightly related to this, I want to introduce a credit card that gives you a new card number and new card automatically every 2-3 months… I call it the “Privacy Card” and would make it a little harder for retailers to track your purchases based on your card number.

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      That would be great, but it would be seriously inconvenient to have to change all my recurring charges every 3 months. Plus, the banks wouldn’t go for issuing a new card that often; it costs them money.

  55. surfphoto says:

    I use the KeyRing app for my phone. Have not had a problem yet with a store not being able to read the bar code.

    • ArizonaGeek says:

      Exactly what I came here to say, KeyRing rocks! I always have my smart phone so I always have my cards.

  56. RheaLich says:

    I have a second wallet full of these types of cards. I wish I didnt have to buf I’m a bargain hunter and it has saved me a lot.

  57. cameronl says:

    I keep my keys on a caribiner, so I can easily remove what I don’t need (work keys stay home on weekends, don’t carry keys to both cars – I only drive one at a time). All my loyalty cards are on a single ring that I grab on my way out the door to go shopping. If I forget it, of course as others say, I just use my phone number.

  58. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    From my experience the cards are most important if you live in touristy areas…like Hawaii or Summit County, CO.

    When I’ve been in those places, the price difference between having the card and not having the card is astounding…and before the cards, they just used your driver’s license for proof that you lived there and weren’t a tourist.

    Tourists pay through the nose…local residents pay normal prices. That’s the situation in which you need to make sure you have those cards.

    • DaveInBillsburg says:

      This is interesting, I live in Williamsburg, VA, which is a heavy tourist area and the prices at grocery stores, gas stations are about the same as other areas in VA. If I hit the local grocery store I’d pay the same for items that don’t have loyality card discounts than if I do.

  59. Bodger says:

    Reading a sampling of the comments here I get the impression that some people think that having a card for every store is somehow mandatory if one is going to shop in that store. Or am I misreading?

    I have a card at Kroger, the closest good grocery to where I live, and at Panera, the closest semi-healthy restaurant, but no others and somehow I manage to shop in scores of other stores and restaurants and not once has any employee at these locations ever suggested that a card was de rigueur — at most I was asked in passing if I had one and certainly nobody ever pushed one on me. Is my experience unusual?

    • hagiograph says:

      I have, on more than one occasion, been held up at the check out while I answer questions about whether I’m on vacation (why else would I show up in their store without a card that is in their system?) or if in my town I have cards for [insert nearly unending list of partner programs here]. I’m willing to sacrifice the 17cents off on the coffee this week just to let me finish the transaction and go home 17 cents poorer, but able to get out of the store.

      My original complaint was not (nor is it ever) that the savings aren’t worth something. But it would be nice if all the grocery stores, of which there are many within easy distance of my house, realized that I know (and they know) it isn’t really a “loyalty” program. They aren’t ensuring I shop at their store, because I can be on a loyalty program at the store equidistant from me in the other direction and it’s random chance that I went here instead of there, we all know they are merely ALL wanting to track my spending habits so they can more “effectively” advertise to me. And I’m already awash in a sea of advertising. After a while it’s white noise.

      Except for those times when the voice of the cashier cuts through to ask me what excuse I could possibly have for being in the store without my card.

  60. RandomHookup says:

    Add in all the non-supermarket loyalty cards — my neighborhood ice cream chain, local burrito chain, Panera, Starbucks, Subway, CVS, Rite Aid, high end burger chain, Godiva — and it gets ridiculous. I don’t necessarily go to all of these very often, but I hate to miss out on a good deal (or a freebie) when I don’t have them handy. It’s also tough to know which to carry because I drive, take the subway and walk to these at various times. I can’t duplicate these on my non-car keys and I don’t want to carry around my bulky car keys just to walk into the square.

  61. Ashman says:

    ys but then they cannot track your purchases….

    I happen to love my Ralphs card. I get discounts on gas at Shell stations up to 20 cents a gallon, plus they send me reward dollars as coupons I can spend on anything, and they send me discount coupons for the products I do buy…

  62. Kuri says:

    If we ever get a loyalty card, it’s only ever for places we frequent.

  63. craftman says:

    “And since they have so many of these cards, not all of them are correctly tied to his or his wife’s phone number”

    You make this sound like the store’s fault. Just enter your freakin’ phone number and be done with it. Jeeze. I haven’t carried a card in years but type in my phone number to a random store POS terminal and – voila! – savings.

    P.S. I don’t get spammy calls from these people either. You’ll be just fine.

    • Hawkins says:

      Mr. Craftman is the only one with the correct answer, I’m afraid.

      Associate each loyalty card with a single phone number. Throw away all the cards. The End.

  64. Cynnamin says:

    Kroger has started sending me coupons to use on things I actually buy. They come in the mail about once a month, are good for two or three months, and have been anything from free name-brand items, free store-brand items, or $$ off purchases I usually make each month. If it was coupons for things I wasn’t buying anyway, it wouldn’t be useful but it has really saved me cash!

    • Emily says:

      Yes, this. I don’t mind them tracking what I buy, because the discounts and coupons are then tailored to me so I’ll get use out of them.

      Also, you no don’t have to carry the card itself, thanks to the phone number option and things like the CardStar iPhone App.

  65. ululare says:

    As a cashier, the loyalty card helps immensely in the customer service department. Without being able to track what people purchase, we have no no idea if anyone’s return attempts are valid, and of course many people actually lose or forget their receipts. Just refusing returns to anyone without a receipt would ensure we were very much hated – not to mention many people who claim they don’t want a card because it will track their steps through the store…also expect us to magically determine somehow what they bought and how, and when, without anything that ties them to our system.

  66. rgf207 says:

    They need to make a better smartphone app for storing these cards. I used to have one but the machines would never read them due to the screen glare.

    • Squard says:

      There are quite a few smartphone apps for this purpose. I use “Key Ring” for Android

      • PeriMedic says:

        Yes! Key Ring is awesome! Just eliminated 15 key fobs and 10 credit-card sized loyalty cards from my wallet. Now they’re on my iPhone and you also get additional coupons sent to the phone.

    • Jimmy37 says:

      Ditto, The scanners can’t “see” the pixels on the display. It’s like the problem of old TV cameras trying to take a picture of an old TV. They ran at the same frequency, so you would either see a blank/partial screen, or a blank spot that moved down the screen.

    • FidMe says:

      That doesn’t depend of apps but of scanners in shops. More there will be users with that kind of mobile apps, more shops will quickly invest in apropriate equipements. So continue to use mobile aps ;)
      If you don’t want to be overwhelmed with plastic fobs, here it is another app to register loyalty cards in your mobile: http://www.fidme.com/en/home.html It’s free, without any add and it runs on all devices (iPhone, Android, Nokia Symbian, BlackBerry, Windows Phone…). You can also register stamp cards with it.

  67. DaveInBillsburg says:

    I don’t mind them tracking my purchases. I set up a separate gmail account and use that for any loyality cards. Then I just go in and auto forwared the e-mails from those stores I want to see. This way I can figure out where the best place to shop is.

    I purchase the bulk of my dry good purchases at Target – have a Red Card that acts as a debt card that gets me 5% off my total purchase. We also belong to their pharmacy rewards program that gets be a 5% shopping coupon for every 5 scrips we fill there, get one of those per month on average. The good thing is it can be stacked with the Red Card to get 10% total on purchase. My meats and produce are purchased at local grocery stores. Since I have loyality cards at several and there are 4 different chains within 10 minutes of my house I get all the online sales flyers. Since my shopping list for meat and produce is about the same every other week I can see who has the best deals on say value packs of chicken breasts and go to that store.

  68. Press1forDialTone says:

    I only carry loyalty cards for the stores that I go to the most.
    I do have loyalty cards for other stores but those are at home
    and I only use them when I am specifically going to one of those
    stores. For example, my city does not have an ACE Hardware,
    but a very nearby city does, and I have a card because I buy a
    few items online in bulk from them and pick them up. As a result,
    here comes a $5 off any purchase coupon in the mail.

    For the ones I carry, those would be CVS, Marsh Supermarket
    Kmart/Sears, JC Penney, Target, Office Depot. By only going to CVS I usually get about
    $30-$40 in “free money” to use on anything but prescriptions every
    4 months.

    Does Wal-Mart have a loyalty card? I don’t go there often, just wondering.

  69. Martha Gail says:

    Target seems to track me just fine without a loyalty card.

  70. Chill4291 says:

    I HATE these cards. My gym has one, cvs, stop and shop, papa ginos. Everywhere. It’s obnoxious.

  71. TamiW says:

    I only have a few of these cards, and they have to give pretty good rewards for me to use them. My feeling is that if they want my data, they need to pay me for it. I really dislike the ones that rarely give any rewards or discounts.

    But mostly, I don’t sign up for them because either they don’t have a significant benefit to me, or I don’t shop at the store often enough to feel that it is worth while. But man, I have seen more confused looks when I tell an employee I’m not interested in signing up for their card. “You don’t want to save $0.04 on this $300 purchase? Are you mad?” Or if I ask if I would save anything if I signed up, and the answer is no. Well then why would I sign up?

    It does make me wonder though if as the consumer gets more savvy if we won’t see companies outright paying the consumer to get this data.