CHOICE membership

"Are you a member?" - Customer loyalty programs

Every time I try to buy something, the salesperson puts up a virtual road block.

“Are you a member?”

It’s the ultimate consumer buzz-kill because there’s no way to make this question go away quickly.

If you answer ‘no’ it gives them an immediate opening to bore your pants off with all the reasons you should be a member.

If you answer ‘yes’? You’ll have to prove it: either by laboriously spelling out your email address, reciting your mobile phone number slowly enough for manicured fingers to keep up, or producing your membership card from the giant wadge of other stupid loyalty cards currently clogging up your wallet. You may also need the password or PIN you made up back in 2002 when you first became ‘a member’.

And the supposed justification for all of this is that they want to give you something: entrée to the magical kingdom of membership.


But the magical kingdom is one thing and one thing only; direct marketing in all of its Machiavellian permutations.

I know this because when the whole, ‘Are you a member?’ thing first began about 10 years ago, I fell for it. A number of times. I was duly ‘rewarded’ with enough spam emails to render my email address useless, as well as duplicate marketing texts that began with ‘Hurry!’, and really boring newsletters about things like tea.

So I swore off the whole membership thing, for good.

But still they kept asking me.

Are you a member? Are you a member? Are you a member?

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“We just want to give you our money so that you can give us stuff. Because the last time I checked, that’s how capitalism works.”

It was incessant and the membership concept knew no bounds: pharmacies, makeup emporiums, fashion stores, discount fabric shops, supermarkets, fancy-schmancy coffee pod sellers. Everybody wanted me in their club, which in a Groucho Marx kind of way, made me all the more determined to resist them. And resist them I did.

So they changed things up. They started asking the question in a more wily way. This time the question held unspoken implications designed to disarm me.

“Are you in our system?” I need proof that you actually exist, as a person.

“Do you have a loyalty card?” If not, you must leave this shop immediately.

“Can I get your email address?” This transaction cannot proceed without it.

“I’ll just grab your email address.” Nothing to see here, it’s just what everyone does and if you don’t comply you must be a paranoid freak.

I continued to resist. But it was getting difficult to buy stuff. I had to constantly be on my guard, I had to approach the counter with a metaphorical stick to bat away their new and sneaky ways of getting ‘my details’.

In fact, it’s become so exhausting that I – a rusted-on shopping mall wafter – don’t even like going to the shops anymore. Because instead of having the desired valium-like Gruen Transfer effect, going to the shops now makes me cranky.

Are you a member? Are you a member? Are you a member?

Note to retailers: no one, and I mean no one wants to be a member of your stupid-offers-and-marketing-floof club.


We don't want your spam, we don't want your texts, we don't want your vague mood-board-style brochures folded and wedged into our letterboxes.

We just want to give you our money so that you can give us stuff. Because the last time I checked, that’s how capitalism works. As Lily Allen so eloquently puts it:

‘I am a weapon of massive consumption
It’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function’

I’m programmed. I’m in. Just let me get on with it.

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It has become…‘would you like fries with that’. It is some ways a form of upselling, which at the end of the day only benefits the retailer, as more data = more dollars.

Other membership clubs include airlines, accommodation providers, car hire/equipment rental companies etc etc. When the old video stores when they were around also collected data and information as ‘evidence of place of residence’ or to approve one as a creditor.

Today any ‘digital disruption business’/online business and social media platform requires enough data which would fill the average page of a exercise book, just to allow one to make a purchase or to use the service. Why, because data = dollars.

Add n in the memberships (Google, Apple etc) which are required to use their smart products. These membersips also allow data collection, compikation and analysis to make the customer, or is that company, experience better.

Link this to data collected by bricks and mortar stores which push memberships, companies which collect and use this data possibly know more about oneself than one does itself.

I ignore any requests for joining memberships to orgsnisations at ths point of sale. When asked, I just look blank or say not interested and after a couple of seconds the transaction is concluded and I am on my way.

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My wife and I were in Woolies points program for a couple of years, but managed to extract ourselves from it a few years ago, as we could see no real benefit, and objected to their data collection.
Now its just a quick NO to their question each time at the checkout, and I guess you can avoid it entirely with the self-serve checkouts these days.
Of course I do miss out on points for my FF card, but that doesn’t bother me at all.

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The price that companies offer for our data via loyalty programs is way undervalued in most cases I have experienced. @phb Woolworths rewards program is an excellent example, I struggle to see how all but the most dedicated of people get much at all out of this program. There was a time when signing up to frequent flyers programs before a long international flight would net a decent rewards benefit, a free domestic flight for example, but that was a while back now and it’s be come much harder these days.

The only one that still works for me is the ones that I see at local cafes or restaurants. A paper card that gets stamped for example, ‘Buy six burritos, get your seventh one free!’. Now that I can handle, and not much risk of losing any data either.

Another thing, all these programs typically come with a card, either cardboard or plastic. Who has room for all these cards? I feel like George Castanza over here!

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I resisted Flybuys for years. Then I caved in, and oh boy,… However, I do get some benefit from it, It has bought me a Fitbit Flex, a Sunbeam convection oven, a new iron and a few other odds and sods I cant remember now. I keep getting annoyed about the Coles marketing emails but some are worth a look, 6500 points a few weeks back if I would just spend $120. It happened that I needed to do a shop of that size on that week, so it was to my advantage to activate it. Of course it was to Coles advantage too, because then, the day after I shopped, they could email me with all the things I should buy (which I had got the day before) in the next three days, to get more points. GAHHHH! Anyway, I made a decision a few weeks back that I would save my points for a particular thing (havent yet decided what) and after that I would stop using my card at coles. I still get points via ebay, agl, kmart and target. I never seem to get much marketing email from those places.

I dropped my Woolworths card after Woolworths dropped its 10% discount for prepaid mobile woolies members. I only had about 300 points, and how to gain any benefit was never clear to me.

I do maintain my cards with my pharmacy and two pet stores, dont get any junk from them either. Coles is the main offender (in so many ways apart from marketing). However I have their insurance and I still get points from that. Oh well, sucked in.

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Oh yes! Don’t get me started with the spam E Mails that drive me nuts, not to mention clutter my Inbox so full, I often miss an E Mail I should be replying to as I blithely hit the delete button to get rid of them. Coles and Fly Buys are particularly bad, so I am considering ridding myself of that one. I have certainly never flown anywhere with them. As I get close to enough points to do anything useful, the goal posts move and I now need 10 000 more points! I have to say, I have never actively chased the points, just take what I get from my normal shopping activity. In the early days, that was a bit of a trap when some people chased points by buying goods surplus to their usual needs.

I have received a couple of gift cards as a result of being a Myer 1 member, and apart from the airlines, I have stuck to one or two local businesses. I too like the business card that I get a stamp on to get my 10th free coffee.

I have benefitted from my pet supplier as I accumulate points by giving my mobile phone number - no cards, and no E Mails (but I do get the occasional text message) and am actually offered a discount on my shop when I get to a particular level. I have had a couple of $100 discounts over the 12 months I have been with them.

I think the secret is to be choosy with which ones you go with and don’t actively chase points by overspending or buying over and above your needs.

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I am a Woolies card holder. Yes I like it because I can get a discount off petrol without having to carry around a receipt ($30 or more). Spending $2000 to get $10 discount off your next shop…Ho Hum. Specials come up. Spend X amount over Y weeks and get Z amount of bonus points…useful. But what I like is that that they know what I buy on a regular basis and send me an email telling me that what I normally buy is for the next week on special. That for me is usually worth it. Saves many dollars.

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If they are Australian Businesses, they are required to allow customers to unsubscribe from their marketing material. I often unsubscribe when an online purchase or requesting say a quote for services results in spam/marketing material from the same company. The unsubscribe option is usually at the bottom of the received emails.

Take care not to ‘unsubscribe’ to non-Australian businesses, such as casinos, medicines, Nigerian princes and such like as clicking on or requesting one being unsubscribed to their service shows the email address is active, resulting in quantities of more spam being sent.

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Around here even with the discount they are still more expensive than where we normally buy fuel, on the road into town. Woolies fuel is a fair bit out of the way, so it’s not a positive factor at all for being signed up to their program.

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We are possibly lucky, in SEQ where we live as Woollies and Puma are the cheapest prediscount by a significant margin (Coles about 10-18c more, BP about 4-8c more). Puma offers a 4c RACQ member discount…Woollies rewards 4c make them even cheaper. Maybe competition pays off.

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We save a fortune at Woolies with our rewards card as each week we are emailed specials (often half price) based on products we’ve bought before. Quite a few of these items aren’t marked down on the shelf, but are discounted. That is great, as the regular shoppers don’t buy up all the stock before we get there.

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Easy to say no at the counter - sometimes there’s an inducement to sign up, eg 20% discount off that transaction, so I do then unsubscribe at the first spam email. However, most online stores have a pop up box appear insisting you sign up before you can shop. In a retail store you can see the product in front of you which stimulates impulse buying but by blocking you online before you can even see their wares seem to me to be the ultimate stupidity in retail marketing. And retailers wonder why their world is so tough.

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The main question to ask is ‘Who will my information be shared with?’ If they can’t answer don’t sign up. If they’re only keeping it for themselves I don’t see the harm.

Beyond that I genuinely believe there are some good loyalty systems out there. Some if only for a digital receipt. For example I tolerate Bonds clothing emails because it gives me free shipping and a hefty discount off the full price of items in exchange.

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All of the above just serve to prove that the retail marketing departments do not understand what they are doing!

“Loyalty” initiatives should be subtle and welcomed by the customers.

I was on the marketing side for 20 years and I still cringe at how badly “loyalty” is executed and how tough it makes it for those that understand the strategy and (try) to do it well!

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We do the same.

We went to the Dendy cinemas recently and were offered a 30% discount if we paid a $5 membership fee. The discount was $10 for two tickets bought undwr fhe one membership. Thought twice at the cashier but ended up joining to save the extra $5. Have already unsubscribed to their marketing material.

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In recent months Woolies have been offering me bonus points if I spend a certain amount over various time periods. For example if I spend $50 in one shop for two weeks then I get 2000 points. It varies, sometimes they wanted a certain spend over four weeks etc. It started to get beyond what I would normally spend so I wouldn’t register for that offer. Usually they would come back with a lower (more reasonable) deal. I have saved a lot of money with credits accumulated, so many times my shopping has cost me nothing.

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Coles do this with flybuys as well (and have done so for some time). The bonus points can be on a single shop of some value or generally over 3 weeks (value again can vary). If you manage to get the value then next time they offer it is for an increased amount…enticement to spend more…

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Yes Woolies was getting progressively more expensive also but I just didn’t subscribe to the dearer offer. Once they realize your not complying, they reduce the spend amount. I mostly only buy the specials so it is a double win:-)

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I always say “I don’t think I’m going to live 200 years for benefits” that usually stops them

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