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October 2017
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Our enslavement by stores’ loyalty cards

The loyalty card schemes are extremely beneficial for the companies that operate them, but what about the benefits of the customer?


“Do you have our loyalty card?” the cashier at the Kruidvat, local drugstore, asks me with her bored, monotone voice. For a few seconds I am pondering what would cost me less effort: saying no, and having to convince the girl I really do not want to become a member, or spitting through my bag with the contents of a dump to find the shiny red card. And for what reason? I only bought one pack of toilet paper, and I have no idea what using the card will gain me. Some points for discounts I will never use? Or am I just giving the Kruidvat information about what I’m buying? Not that I care, I will buy my toilet paper without shame. But why? Why taunt us with member cards and advantage cards, giving us customers the feeling we are part of something exclusive while we actually get no benefits from it at all?

We all know the Bonuscard from the Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn: so famous it deserves a capital letter. I myself work as a cashier here, which means that on an average working day, I repeat the question “do you have a
Bonuscard” around 200 times. Which counts up to 20800 times in one year. Do I actually care about that card? No, not at all. If someone does not have it, I use a special code and the customers still get their discounts: everyone happy. However, not every cashier does that, and if you forgot your card then sorry, but the 1+1 offer does not apply to you. You will have to go home with one extra product you did not even want, but still paid for in the end. Considering all these disadvantages, I advocate the abolition of the Bonuscard and all its equivalents, just for the sheer joy of having more space in my purse and less questions to ask at work.

Albert Heijn is the only supermarket in the Netherlands that uses such a system. If it’s not for the benefit of the customers, we have to ask ourselves what the real reason is. Max Kohnstamm from did some calculations and demonstrated that Albert Heijn annually makes a profit of 61.6 million euros from those Bonuscards alone. How does that work? In every other supermarket, there are weekly discounts and every customer will get those discounts. In the Albert Heijn, customers have to prove they really want this discount by showing their Bonuscard. What happens if they do not have their card is that the discount goes to… yes, the big boss of the Albert Heijn. This means that what the entire Netherlands is doing by using the Bonuscard, is making sure that the Albert Heijn gets some extra profit other Dutch supermarkets don’t get. Smart move from Albert Heijn, you have to give them that.


Stores that have such loyalty card schemes, probably have them for two reasons: they want to know what you’re buying, and they want you to keep coming back. If you face the choice between two similar stores, but possess the loyalty card of only one, you will always pick that store: you will feel like you’re part of something exclusive (which you’re actually not), and also feel some familiarity towards the brand. 90% of the Dutch households owns a Bonuscard, says, which means that there is barely any exclusivity here.

The other issue with the Bonuscard is its ‘personal offers’ program: in response to all the negative comments about how the Bonuscard intrudes on privacy, Albert Heijn said they are monitoring everyone’s purchases for one reason only: to be able to give their customers personal offers by e-mail. As an employer at Albert Heijn I can say with certainty that these offers are not personal: everyone gets the same one. As nobody seems to notice this, every customer receiving this so-called personal e-mail will hop on their bike to the Albert Heijn to get their special deal. Which means that, again, everyone is getting fooled by the feeling they are receiving exclusive treatment, while they are actually being the stupid customer Albert Heijn wants them to be.

A stupid customer, that’s exactly what I am, too. After some searching I finally hand my red Kruidvat card to the bored cashier, not without some feeling of defeat. The girl seems relieved for not having to convince me I really need to take part in their loyalty scheme, so at least my efforts made someone happy. Except for me, because my benefits are nonexistent. Then I suddenly notice there’s a mirror on the card, with the words ‘your smile’ on it. The only thing I see there is my annoyed face, which seems funny, so I smile. At least there’s something positive about this card.

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