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The Loyalty Card Conundrum

Remember Radio Shack (a Tandy company)? Great place for plugs and jacks, odd-size batteries, cheap tape recorders and arcane fuses but did anyone enjoy the checkout experience when they asked for your name and address? They eventually discontinued this rather intrusive practice but why did they need my deets - just to send me another catalog?

By Richard Pachter

Nowadays, Big Data should be able to track a purchaser through any number of connections. No need to ask my name address, mother's maiden name and shoe size. Yet …

Pick a card. Any card. (No, not that one.)

Maybe it's fear of Big Brother. But that ship sailed a long time ago. We're not quite in the future imagined by Spielberg with totally instant and immediate personalization right down to the flavor, size and variety of a given product, but we're damned near close. Cookies in web browsers serve up custom ads based on our searches and browsing habits, for example, even on Facebook.

We still have to load our wallets George Costanza-style with sundry loyalty and/or affinity cards then remember to pull out the right one at the appropriate store or we will lose out on … what? Points, discounts, cash back some time in the distant? Who can keep track? (Spoiler: not me.) It seems like the biggest beneficiary is the seller, not the buyer.

The questions remains: why do shoppers still have to present these cards at checkout? Why do retailers still rely on them? There's no easy answer. It's not laziness. Perhaps taking a deeper dive into the data isn't cost effective - yet.

According to Geoff Galat, CMO of ClickTale, "While traditional loyalty card schemes will continue to provide basic information about customers' in-store purchases, they simply cannot provide the level of data and insights required to understand a customer's true mindset and motivations. As a result, while they may continue to supplement the collection of customer data, it's clear that their role in marketing is inevitably set to fade."

But there hope on the horizon: "Rather than simply looking at what a customer has bought in the past, Experience Analytics helps to uncover the psychology behind those purchases, examining everything from customer moods to what a person's purchases say about their long-term aspirations. Rather than looking at whether someone bought orange juice three weeks in a row, the biggest players in retail are now focusing their efforts on much subtler behavioral signs - incorporating everything from eye-tracking technology to the psychology of 'digital body language'."

Sounds great, but in the meantime, better keep those cards handy!

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