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In the past month the D&W grocery store chain in our area suddenly, at least to the general public, announced a new “rewards card” program. That’s what they called it anyway, “rewards.” Actually, it’s a new club-not-called-a-club in which customers must enroll or join if they want to take advantage of sales discounts in the store.

Now there’s nothing wrong, it seems to me, in a food corporation developing a new “rewards” program. Indeed I am more than supportive of the free enterprise system and allowing companies to offer initiatives and compete.

But there’s more to this story. The real reason for the new program is not to “reward” the customer, though admittedly customers can accumulate points toward acquiring products. The real reason is to channel customers into using the new system. Once enrolled, every purchase a customer makes is cataloged, just like so-called rewards programs at the casino. So one’s consumer inclinations are tracked.

But there’s still more to the story, the one that causes me to question the grocery chain’s ethics. They say joining the rewards program is voluntary, except there’s a catch. If you don’t join you are blocked from all in-store sales discounts. All of them. In other words, after shopping in this store for 20 years, if I choose not to give them my email and home address and not to subject my purchases to regular tracking, I no longer can purchase anything on sale. The company calls its program a “reward,” yet the company dismisses out of hand any and all customers who do not sign up, no matter how long they’ve been a loyal customer.

If this isn’t enough, the company has changed all of its sale signage, proclaiming a price, for example $2.99 for a pumpkin, and then in the corner in small print stating “$1.00 Less With Yes Card,” the name of the rewards program.

This actually happened to me. I saw a pumpkin for $2.99 with the accompanying statement that if I have a “Yes” card I may purchase the pumpkin for $1 less. So I think, “Oh, I don’t have that card, but I’m willing to pay $2.99 for that pumpkin.” When it’s run through the register, the price comes up $3.99. I point this out and am told the price advertised already included the discount—for which I do not qualify. But that’s not what the sign said and when I made this observation I was told “All our signs are that way,” as if this is an explanation. The new signage is, in my estimation, misleading at best.

As I said earlier, I have no problem with a company developing an optional club or rewards program. But D&W’s rewards program is an in or out, either you opt to join or you will be denied access to sales. It’s not really optional. It amounts to a members-only program like Sam’s Club.

D&W should re-think their program. It’s more of a reward to the company than to the customer.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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