Many companies are willing to pay you – a little – to be a regular customer. All the while, I’m made to feel thrifty as I pursue the discount, or free service. Now every transaction is fraught as I figure out the correct merchant to buy from. Apparently, I’m willing to enact a complex ritual to get something for free.
All my air travel is booked with a single carrier because I earn points that can eventually be used for a free ticket. I’ll use the hotel and rental car they recommend to earn even more points. When I can finally book that complimentary flight, I restrain myself from telling all the other passengers that I got on without paying.
Restaurant reservations are made through an app that also awards points. We don’t eat out that often, so it may take months before any balance of consequence accumulates. Converting those points to a restaurant coupon means we can get a pricey entree we may not have picked otherwise.
My keyring is full of fobs to scan when I pay – these record my purchase and offer some down-the-road reward at the drug-store or sandwich shop. “Come in for your free cookie” they’ll tell me in an email, or they’ll offer to take $5 off my bill at checkout.
When I was a child, groceries and gas stations promoted loyalty by offering S&H Green Stamps. With every purchase, a string of stamps would come out of the register along with the receipt. At home, I’d get to lick and stick the stamps in a book. When the book was filled, we could exchange it for something wonderful, like a Polaroid camera, jewelry, or flatware. Even if stamps weren’t involved, merchandise rewards were common. Banks gave you a blender for opening an account, convenience stores offered a set of commemorative glasses (“collect them all!”), and grocery stores offered children’s books.
A few years ago, our grocery offered an old-fashioned deal: purchases earned points toward cookware. If you shopped there regularly, pretty soon you could get a Cuisinart skillet or saute pan at a deep discount; if you spent enough, you could get them for free. I was transfixed by the large display of gleaming pans. Instead of spreading my shopping among two or three groceries, I did it all in one place. Each week I watched our point balance grow while the tall display of cookware got smaller. I piled more things into our cart to be sure we spent more. When we finally had enough points, I proudly added the free pans to the conveyor belt with our groceries.
Most of the time, I hope I’m a savvy shopper – finding sales, buying store brands, opting for quality that will last. The prospect of a discount shouldn’t push me to buy something I don’t want or need. But I am loyal to a few merchants because I like what they have and I’m treated fairly. Plus, getting something extra for what I was going to buy anyway, is awfully appealing.