Coffee shop loyalty cards

Loyalty schemes seem to get constantly re-invented. You could argue that it all started, in the UK at least, with green shield stamps, which were apparently phenomenally popular at its peak in the 60s/70s, and were issued by all sorts of shops. You could 'spend' the stamps in a chain of Green Shield catalogue shops (which then later became Argos, I've just learnt). According to Wikipedia, the scheme was doubly successful because lots of stamps were never redeemed, as to do so meant lots of time-consuming licking and sticking.

I'm not old enough to remember Green Shield stamps, but I do remember the initial supermarket loyalty card landrush. The Tesco Clubcard and Sainsburys Reward Card were launched in quick succession, and I can remember people choosing to shop and one over the other in order to build up their points. Then Sainsburys ditched the Reward Card for the Nectar scheme, which launched with much marketing fanfare as a multi-company loyalty programme including the likes of BP, Barclaycard and Debenhams. It's still around, but isn't exciting any more, and has suffered a backlash of sorts when people started to realise that all this data about their shopping habits was being collected. (I remember going to see a Michael Moore show, where part of his act involved chopping up people's loyalty cards).

I've never had a Clubcard, or a Nectar card, or even a Boots Advantage card (which my girlfriend swears is actually worthwhile). But I've opted out mainly through apathy rather than choice - I can never be bothered to fill in those forms with all your address details. It probably doesn't actually take that long, and over the years I've spent thousands of pounds in supermarkets, so I've presumably lost out on the opportunity for some free stuff, but I'm lazy, and it's easy (and perhaps even enjoyable defiant) to say 'no' when checkout staff ask if you have a loyalty card.

Given this, you may be surprised to learn that I'm a big user of coffee shop loyalty cards. You know the type, where your cardboard card is rubber-stamped for every coffee you drink, and then your nth coffee is free. It's lo-fi, and it works. I actually ask for these if I'm not offered one, and make sure my card is stamped every time. I even find myself seeking out a Caffe Nero, telling myself it's because their coffee is reliably better than Starbucks/Coffee Republic (which I think it is, but I could be kidding myself), but secretly just wanting another red stamp on my card.

The saddest thing is that I don't even redeem a fully-stamped card straight away. Oh no, I 'save' them up. I tell myself that it's not worth wasting a free drink on a takeaway coffee. Instead I wait until I have the time to eat-in, and then have a large coffee (because it normally costs more, and is therefore a more valuable freebee, even though a smaller coffee tastes stronger and better).

Aside from my love of Caffe Nero, I do have loyalty cards from other coffee shops, the most interesting of which is this one from PJ Taste (a local cafe here in Sheffield).

They've tried to spice up the cardboard coffee loyalty card by turning it into a snakes and ladders esque game. It's frankly a bit bewildering though, and I'm not quite sure how it's meant to work.

Turning loyalty schemes into games is almost going full circle back to Green Shield stamps, particularly the US version of the scheme, where the stamps were traded almost like football stickers. Perhaps the gaming aspect could be pushed further, and in the future we'll see supermarkets rewarding customers in Linden dollars or collectable marbles...