Making use of loyalty schemes is always smart, especially when it comes to supermarket schemes.
After all, the money we spend on our groceries is one of the biggest outlays most households face each month, and loyalty schemes can help us cost those costs.
That’s a sensible move at the best of times, let alone with the ongoing cost of living crisis.
However, the attempt by Waitrose to revamp its loyalty scheme, under the promise of delivering more personalised rewards to shoppers, has already hit the bumpers.
A change in direction
Waitrose relaunched its MyWaitrose loyalty scheme a couple of weeks ago, promising a more personalised experience by making it a digital scheme.
The idea was that the store would get better information on the spending habits of individual shoppers, and could then issue weekly personalised rewards based on how that money was spent.
Essentially, it meant that the 50 million physical vouchers which the retailer previously issued would be moved online.
Waitrose had claimed that its decision to make its vouchers digital rather than physical had been made in response to demand from its customers, as the store would be able to “invest more value directly into the pockets of customers”.
The trouble is, it turns out plenty of shoppers hate the idea.
Indeed, the supermarket has been on the receiving end of thousands of complaints from members of the loyalty scheme, according to the supermarket industry title The Grocer, who have said the new scheme is confusing and even discriminatory.
The current system means that shoppers have to either have the app or be logged into the website to take advantage of their weekly vouchers, and need to activate their preferred deals before they can actually use them.
It appears that there is no way for those who only hold a physical card to check the rewards open to them in store, nor to link the vouchers from the website to their physical card.
As a result, Waitrose is changing the scheme already. A spokesman said that it is “identifying customers’ preferred ways to receive their offers, including print at home, vouchers in the post and coupons printed at till”.
A familiar pattern
Waitrose certainly isn’t the only retailer to go down this route.
We’ve seen a host of retailers push their customers towards relying on their mobile apps in order to qualify for rewards.
There’s an obvious logic to that, as it certainly does give the retailer a better insight into the spending habits of their customers, and puts them in a better place to deliver personalised rewards.
But they aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
Supermarkets benefit from this drive, cutting the costs of running physical rewards schemes and gaining all sorts of valuable data on their customers.
Ultimately it’s a move designed to give their own finances a boost as much as anything else.
And there’s no arguing that schemes like this are unfair.
There are plenty of shoppers who don’t want to rely on a smartphone app in order to secure their loyalty rewards, whether because they are uncomfortable with the technology or simply not in a position to have a smartphone.
What’s more, they are a far less straightforward way of utilising the offers open to you.
If I get sent a voucher in the post for my supermarket of choice, I can simply take it with me to the store when I next go shopping and cash it in.
By contrast, these schemes require me to download an app, remember to check it and then ‘activate’ the deals I want to use before heading to the store, and then remember to scan the app at the till to boot.
You can absolutely guarantee there will be shoppers who miss one of these steps when heading to the shop and end up missing out on rewards.
Standing up for your rights
This is why I think it’s fantastic that Waitrose shoppers have kicked up such a stink over this that the store is having to change its plans.
It’s all too easy for us to roll over and take it, put up with the disruption that comes from retailers revamping their schemes in this way. And when that happens, shoppers end up worse off.
However, in this case, Waitrose shoppers have made their voices heard and ensured that Waitrose has had to change tack.
It sets a good example for shoppers to follow in future, when stores again try to implement unfair changes and also sounds a warning to other retailers considering a similar approach for their own loyalty schemes.