Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Grocery Store Loyalty Cards: More Than Just a Coupon?

Grocery Store Loyalty Cards: More Than Just a Coupon?

Many of us carry one or more grocery store (and others like gas reward or drugstore) loyalty cards.

The colorful additions to our key chains or smartphones have become commonplace. It seems most consumers use these grocery loyalty cards regularly.

One study from Boston University’s College of Communication found that 86% of shoppers use the discount cards and are willing to give up some level of privacy to reap the rewards.

Originally envisioned as a way to replace paper coupons and provide discounts on sale items without the need for paper coupons in the 1980s, their numbers have grown to almost 2 billion memberships.

What benefits are todays food consumers actually getting from their current cards and what does the future hold for us in the amount of benefit they are capable of giving to us for our health?

Benefits of Using Loyalty Cards

There are obvious and not so obvious benefits associated with using loyalty cards, some for us and some for the retailers.

  • Money savings – average is 25 to 50% off regular prices
  • Gas discounts
  • Rewards – points for future purchases on food
  • Free membership to consumer
  • Freedom from clipping coupons
  • Track purchasing trends and ability to discount the most desired items
  • Aided the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in locating source of food borne illness outbreaks through food purchases

Disadvantages Of Loyalty Cards

  • Loss of privacy – have to give address and phone number to get savings, stores track where/when/how frequently you shop and what you buy
  • Encourage overspending to get a reward
  • Too many to keep track of and stuffing our wallet with cards
  • Some argue that the regular price of items has been inflated compared to stores without a loyalty card program

Future Use of Technology Using Loyalty Cards

What benefits would we like our store loyalty cards give us in addition to cost savings on the items we want to purchase?

Food Safety

Wouldn’t it be great if we could receive notification of recall warnings on the items we bought or alerts about contamination or allergens directly from the manufacturers, including what we need to do for our safety?

If a bagged lettuce manufacturer recalls the exact variety of lettuce we bought with the code number of the packaging plant in question, could we be contacted via email from our loyalty card? It could warn us not to eat the lettuce but return it to the store or even discard it for safety sake before someone gets sick.

Wouldn’t that be a big win for everyone? One that was worth carrying and using the grocer’s loyalty card?

One example of this was during the melamine contaminated pet food crisis in 2007 where pets died after eating dog food manufactured in China and sold at retailers in the US. Customers were contacted via their loyalty card at their registration email address to warn them about the danger of the particular dog food they purchased.


Maybe the card can be used for a purpose greater than loyalty. Use it as an educational and communication tool for nutrition and health too.

This technology is capable of a two-way conversation between retailer and consumer and we should be pushing to get the information we want from grocers through our reward cards.

Would you like to know where your produce was grown, who the grower was and what farming or manufacturing practices the food came to market under? Can this information be provided via loyalty card engagement based on the food items you purchase regularly?

Nutrition and Health

Wouldn’t it be a great service if supermarket chains used their in-house dietitians to offer coaching advice and consumer information about nutrition as part of their loyalty cards? One of the rewards could be free sessions with the dietitian or group supermarket tours. Incorporating their frequent meal purchases into healthy meal plans with the help of the dietitian would be a great health benefit for many loyalty card users.

Can their loyalty card, in an app version, become a scanner to help track your nutrition via nutrition facts label data?

Can that app integrate the nutrition facts panels to give you suggestions on which choices are healthier for you? Or better yet, tell you which item might be similar in nutritional content but less expensive? That will help us maintain nutrition and manage our budget.

Personalized Advice

How about if our food purchases can be patterned to inform us if we might be at risk for certain diseases based on the nutritional content of our food selections? Do we buy higher sodium foods or more fat laden foods compared to others without chronic disease? Can it advise us to cut down on foods high in salt or include more choices with fiber?

Maybe part of our app would include our physical profile so that we can determine how many calories we require and perhaps suggest foods that might fit into our forecasted meal plan. Could our food purchases link with our MyFitnessPal or Weight Watcher app and help guide our purchases before we bring home foods that could sabotage our meal plan?

Interesting concept and one that might not be that far off in the future.

Using the customer base that partners with a particular supermarket through its loyalty program is an innovative way to get messages of good health to the consumer in a way that is easy to understand and access.

Cooking Tips

How about trending the type of foods you buy and providing you with recipes that use the foods you buy?

Apps for grocers could offer health tips included in the sale flyer about how to cook a particular food item but also the nutritional content of the meal or ways to make recipes healthier.

Time and Money Saving

I would love the supermarket app to tell me on which aisle I can find an item so I don’t waste time.

Could it alert me when the milk I bought is about to expire so I can be sure to pick up a fresh gallon? Maybe it can tell how long to store a particular food so that it doesn’t go to waste before it can be included on the family menu?

What if we could get customer reviews for the latest products to help decide if we wanted to test it our ourselves or suggestions about how they could best use a particular food in their home recipe?

Engagement possibilities are wide open if retailers stopped thinking about their loyalty cards as a way to intrigue customers to shop in their store instead of the one across the street or solely as a means to offer a coupon but try to provide value, education, and safety to this large database of consumers who want to be healthy.

Getting information that is practical and healthful that also saves money would be a goal to inspire loyalty!

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