Chloe Melvin, food and drink writer gives us her opinion on the value of loyalty cards, ultimately arguing against them morally.

Images by Marcus Spiske

As a child, I often swore to myself that I would not become a so-called ‘sad’ adult who was obsessed with reusable tote bags and loyalty cards. However, in this economy (and in the environmental crisis we are living in) it is more important than ever to keep food costs low and to ensure that any food we buy is not wasted. But it doesn’t stop there— it is no longer an advisable act to sign up for a loyalty card to earn points while you spend, it is now essential that you sign away your data and shopping habits in exchange for lower prices. This begs the question— are we being forced to ‘buy’ into loyalty cards?

are we being forced to ‘buy’ into loyalty cards?

While it is certain that traditional points cards are guaranteed to save you at least a little bit of money, loyalty cards have advanced beyond this in the past few years. Here are two types of loyalty cards that deviate from the standard ‘points for cash’ rewards, and how they might not benefit you as much as you think:


A ‘Price’ for Loyalty

Supermarket loyalty cards such as Sainsbury’s Nectar and Tesco’s Clubcard have introduced a tiered pricing system, offering lower prices for loyalty card members. This means that while you can both earn points/vouchers while saving money, you are effectively forced into signing up if you are struggling with the current economic situation. Chartered Trading Standards Institute reports on a Which? survey, and states that ‘age and address-based restrictions as well as digital requirements’ mean that some are unable to access discounts that feasibly could apply to all.

Moreover, this begs an ethical question– is it moral for supermarkets to demand that people part with their personal information and shopping habits to save money during a global economic crisis when many do not have the option of spending more to avoid this imposition?


‘Wasted’ Loyalty

This category, in my opinion, concerns the least useful type of loyalty cards. These cards are the type that you will scan in hope each time that you shop, praying that this is the time that you will be granted something useful for your loyalty. The most notable of this category is the M&S Sparks Card; while the company does donate to a charity (or a combination of charities) on your behalf when you are a member, it takes a lot of spending to access your earned vouchers, which sometimes are not worth much or relevant to your shopping experience. The most common among these are vouchers for the odd free loaf of bread or Percy Pigs, but they are not given regularly and, are usually unsubstantial. 

loyalty cards can sometimes do more harm than good

In my opinion, it appears that loyalty cards can sometimes do more harm than good to the customers who are supposed to benefit from them. While it is necessary for anyone in a precarious financial position to make the best of deals offered by supermarket loyalty cards, this doesn’t make it a moral or sustainable solution to food poverty in the UK.  With over 4.5 million people struggling to afford food, I argue that the onus is on supermarkets to part with some of their million (or billion) pound profits to prevent this issue, rather than putting the moral costs of loyalty cards onto their customers.

Interested in Food & Drink? Read some of our other articles: 

Meal Deal Mayhem: A Battle Between Supermarkets

Food for Thought: A Vegan Diet: Healthy or Hellish? 

Recipe: Autumn Treats