What Do Reward Points Say about Our Sense of Value?

I’m not a frequent Sears shopper. Nevertheless, I signed up for their “Shop Your Way Rewards” program. There are only two reasons why – (1) I’m a Craftsman guy and (2) I like getting something for nothing.

I’ve always been enamored of Sears’ lifetime warranty on their Craftsman hand tools. How could you not like that they’d replace a broken claw hammer you bought 30 years ago, no questions asked? (Well, not exactly – you do have to use it for its intended purpose and under “normal conditions”, but how difficult is that?) So far, I haven’t returned any of my Craftsman tools (and some are getting up there in years). They’ve repeatedly provided me with value well beyond their purchase price.

So…why sign up for a loyalty program if you’re already a loyal customer? The opportunity to get something free, however small, for something I’m already doing seemed too good to pass up. As it is, I’ve hardly bought anything from either Sears or K-Mart but so what if it takes me ten years to build up enough points to acquire that “9-mm Cushion Grip Nut Driver”?

Well, Sears and K-Mart don’t want me to wait ten years – they can’t afford to. Ergo, I’m now being harassed by the Incredible Shrinking Two-Headed Retail Giant. They’re imploring, exhorting, and cajoling me to spend the 3,700 points I’ve piled up (the virtual equivalent of $3.70 (gasp!)) on something. ANY-thing! NOW! (See the email subject line, below.)

You've Got Points Burning a Hole in Your Pocket!

I have points burning a hole in my pocket?! What do they think? That I’m that seven-year-old who used to blow every last nickel on Topps baseball cards?

It’s not just Sears and K-Mart, either. My wife and I have other credit card accounts on which we’re building up points – points we can, if we choose, squander on knickknacks, not a damned one of which I’d buy for myself. (Not even for a birthday “gag gift” for one of my brothers.)

I understand where Sears, MasterCard, and the rest are going with this. They believe they can get cash flowing into their coffers quickly and with minimal effort by using such tools. I can’t blame them for trying – loyalty programs have been known to work on a large segment of the retail customer base for decades.

I’m hoping they’ve run their course, however. As the concept of loyalty and other reward programs has matured from an incentive just for salespeople to a worldwide phenomenon, the value offered in return for one’s loyalty has shrunk an awful lot. Furthermore, as the “customer base” for such programs has mushroomed, it’s become more difficult to determine just who this sort of scheme works on. They’ll tell you it’s not the “shotgun approach” but I’m not so sure. It sure feels like desperation.

I get the feeling there are far too many organizations that just don’t understand what real customer satisfaction, joy, and loyalty are. They cite a textbook definition but they don’t know what it means in the real world. Real satisfaction with your company’s products – the perception of value – and the prompt, reliable service you provide after the sale are what turn one-time customers into repeat customers and advocates. Companies that win my business are listening to me.

I suspect they’d prefer you forgot the baubles, trinkets, and meager amounts of cash and give them lasting value, instead.

How about you, though? Are you OK with getting cash back or points instead of value? Or do you think customer rewards programs provide value?

I’m listening.

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Posted in Customer experience, Listening

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