Loyalty programs: 11 years to shop my way to an ipad

loyaltyThe small lady behind the counter scowls when ever I order a coffee and give her my loyalty card to mark.

I’ve not yet seen her smile, perhaps she is incapable.

She doesn’t have a stamp, as most cafes do, but scribbles a signature in Chinese characters over one of the eight oval shapes that must be filled in before I get a free coffee at Coffee Kingdom (corner Market Street and Flinders Lane).

You’d think a smile might be a nice gesture since I choose her cafe among the myriad of alternatives to go to for my afternoon caffeine fix.

But no. She takes my money and signs my card like a teacher marking the report card of one of her least pleasing students.

I can only wonder how she is going to react when I fill in all the eight spaces and give her my card instead of money and ask for a skinny cappucino.

Will she spit in my coffee when I am not looking? Will she burn the milk? Will the coffee cup be only half full?

All this has got me thinking about loyalty programs.

A couple of years ago, I racked up enough points on my Virgin velocity card to buy an 80 GB ipod classic. It was pretty much top of the range back then – I still have it and use it often – and I was pleased with myself for having bought it for “nothing”.

But of course that’s not the case at all.

I first had to rack up a couple of year’s worth of trips to and from Sydney, a couple of overseas trips to London and back and one or two to Johannesburg and back – all on Virgin to get enough points to buy the gadget.

A while back I thought about writing a blog post about how much shopping I would have to do at Coles to qualify for say an ipad on the Flybuys loyalty program.

On Coles’ Flybuys program I need 113,800 points to buy an ipad 2 with wi-fi and 3G capabilities.rewards

Currently, after a couple of years of grocery shopping ( I don’t do all my shopping at Coles I confess) I have a whopping 5,700 points, which qualifies me for two movie tickets at Hoyts (worth about $40) with a few points to spare or just enough for a six month subscription to the ABC’s Gardening magazine.

So after years and many thousands of dollars spent on groceries, pet food and lately, nappies, I can cash it all in and go to the movies or subscribe to a magazine.

But what about that cherished ipad?

Flybuys does provide a calculator so I can estimate just how much I need to spend at Coles or Kmart or Liquorland to put in my order.

If I were to spend $100 per week on groceries at Coles, this would gives me 400 points. And lets say I spend $50 a week on average at Target (200 points) and $50 on booze at Liquorland (200 points) I’d rack up 800 points a month.

Divide that by 113,800  (minus the 5,700 points I already have accrued) and I get 135 months or just over 11 years.

More than a decade of loyal spending!

Of course in 11 years time, the ipad will probably be replaced by a device implanted behind the eyeballs operated by thoughts and god only knows how many points you’ll need for that.

(Ok, I’ve been watching too many sci-fi movies, but I do believe the next Samsung smartphone will have “eye-scrolling” technology)

The bottom line is that most loyaltly programs throw scraps at loyal customers in return for valuable information about spending patterns and the type of products we might like to buy.

Consider this. I got an email from Flybuys today offering me a bonus 200 points if I shop at the Coles kosher range before passover.

Now, I don’t imagine that catholic priests that do their shopping at Coles – and have never once bought  a kosher chicken at four times the price of a non-kosher one  – will have received this offer.

And I know why I got it.

I’ve only once ever shopped at Coles for kosher food. My mother came to visit last year from South Africa and we bought a kosher chicken and a few other things to prepare a traditional Friday night shabbat dinner.

Of course I duly swiped my Flybuys card and surprise, surprise – I’m on the kosher mail out along with all the regular kosher buyers from Bentleigh and Caufield.

(They must have ignored the bacon, hot cross buns and shaved ham I’ve bought in the past).

Shabbat Shalom indeed!

I should add that loyalty programs are brilliant if someone else is picking up the cheque but you score the points – such as businessmen who fly regularly on the company credit card. I think of the movie “Up in the air” and George Clooney receiving his special graphite loyalty card for racking up a 10 million air miles.

On a smaller scale, I could offer to get the coffee round at work and earn a free coffee everyday at Coffee Kingdom.

Imagine the look on her face!

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