I took a Microeconomics intro course in the Spring of ’09 and during one of the lectures, my professor told us an interesting piece of information about how the places we shop at can find out a lot more about us than we may want them to know. How do they do this? Through their membership and rewards cards.
I can’t tell you how many times I go to the grocery store see people in the line ahead of me with numerous membership and rewards cards on their key chains. A few of the popular ones are: CVS, Duane Reade, Pathmark, Safeway, Borders, and Modell’s. So what’s the benefit to you for having these cards? Perhaps it’s the discounted prices that attract you, or maybe the coupons they occasionally send in the mail that apply to products you love. Whatever a person’s motive may be, there are most definitely consumer incentives to carrying these cards. Now, onto how your carrying a card benefits the stores at which you shop…
Collecting information about consumers is important to many businesses because that makes them better able to market items to individual customers. The more they market to you on a personal level, the more you’re apt to buy products. So, essentially, when you enter Safeway and buy your weeks worth of groceries, you’re handing over to them a list of foods and other goods that you like to buy as soon as your card is scanned. This information is used to generate coupons for you that have offers for the items you typically buy. This generates a lure for the customers and, simultaneously, greater profits for the business. Not only is this information useful for helping Safeway to get their customers to buy more, but Safeway can also choose to sell or share this information with other grocery stores. And remember how you filled out your name, address, and phone number on that membership card application? That’s right; other businesses now have your personal information if they want to target you based on your shopping tendencies. How is this a danger to consumers? You are vulnerable to more spending. Just like an increase in the hours that you watch television increases the amount you spend, exposure to promotions about items you already like are certainly responsible for further consumption of those items.
One way to dodge the membership card bullet is to simply put false information on the application. This doesn’t always work, however, because I have encountered stores, such as guitar center, that require you to supply your correct name and address each time you purchase something from the store. How much effort do you think it would take to concoct a new name and address every time you wanted to buy something? And if you thought you were immune because you shop primarily on the internet, you’re actually worse off. Buying items on the internet makes it easier for businesses to catalog and sell your personal shopping information due to everything already being done electronically.
Clearly, hard as we may try, we cannot avoid the inevitable data collection that companies are generating from us consumers everyday, but we can try to minimize it a bit. For instance, I never bring my CVS card with me when I shop there because the cashier normally has one that they can scan for people who forget to bring theirs or for those who don’t have one. Make an effort to find the loopholes wherever possible; it will help you in the long run.