Are you guilty of throwing money away - by ditching loyalty cards? A new study has revealed that 87 million people have lost a loyalty card - complete with all its stamps or points. Meanwhile, millions more of us lug cards around with us, collecting points, and then never getting around to using them: there are an estimated £4.5 billion worth of loyalty points sitting unused in people's accounts.
Our track record for making the most of schemes isn't good. Research has been released by Caffè Nero which shows that 25 million Brits have lost two to five paper loyalty cards in the last year, and in excess of 87 million cards in total.
Some 43% of people just lost the card, 42% stuck it in a forgotten corner of their wallet and forgot about it, and 20% have accidentally left it in a pocket and put it through the wash.
The coffee company is trying to get around this by launching a loyalty app called Yoyo Wallet to replace its cards - which offered a stamp with every coffee - and a free coffee with every ten stamps.
This should hopefully keep the cards themselves safe, but experience would seem to indicate that there's no guarantee that we will suddenly become loyalty card geniuses.
We'll still forget them at the checkout, forget our points, or end up using them in the lease effective way possible. There are therefore seven rules we all need to follow to make the most of loyalty schemes.
1) Never change your habits for points
One of the reasons these schemes were set up in the first place was to encourage you to buy things you wouldn't have bought otherwise, or shop somewhere different, in pursuit of points. If you end up spending more than you would have without the loyalty scheme, you are guaranteed to be worse off.
2) Always claim the points
It's irritating to have to keep lots of cards in your wallet, and it's tempting to think that with the cutbacks some stores have made in the generosity of their schemes, they're not worth bothering with. However, if a shop or restaurant is running a scheme, then they are paying for it out of money they are making from you. If you are effective paying for a scheme, you should make sure you benefit from it too.
It's also important to remember your card each time you shop, and consider the points regularly. Some paper cards require a certain number of stamps, so it's clear when you have collected enough. Others will just accumulate points on the card, and the only way to tell what you have is to go online. For these cards, it's worth making a note in your diary every three months to check what you are carrying on each card, and whether you have earned enough to cash them in.
3) Go online
Some schemes are very straightforward - like when you collect 10 stamps for a freebie. Others, however, are far more complex. Nectar, for example, is far more rewarding if you regularly visit the website and load your card with special offers. Make time to visit sites like this to make sure you are collecting as many points as possible for your shopping.
4) Think carefully how you spend points
In many cases, there are special promotions which will boost the value of your points. Tesco Clubcard has ended these promotions, but Nectar still offers them. It's therefore worth checking when these promotions tend to run.
5) Check partners
Some of the schemes run with partners, so you get several times the value if you spend the points with the partners. Clubcard is a really good example of that - where you can get up to four times the value for your points depending where you use them.
10 tricks supermarkets use to get you to spend more
10 tricks supermarkets use to get you to spend more
The subtle manipulation starts as soon as you enter the store when you are assailed by the smell of flowers and fresh bread, which are often placed near the door. The smell is intended to put you in a good mood and to get your salivary glands working. You are also more likely to pick up these higher-ticket items when your cart is empty.
Similarly, fresh produce like fruit and vegetables (one of the most profitable sections at the supermarket) is also usually at the front because the bright colours are more likely to lift your mood than bland cartons and cans. Mist is sometimes sprayed on the fruit and veg to make them look fresh but can actually make them rot faster.
Supermarkets do their best to spread staples far apart to force shoppers to walk through the whole store and lead them into temptation (meat in the back right hand corner, dairy in the back left hand corner).
(Industry experts claim that this is for logistical reasons. Milk needs to be refrigerated straight away and the lorries unload at the back. That does not explain why other staples like eggs are at the back.)
In most stores customers move from right to left. Some speculate this is because in many countries, including the US, people drive on the right. Also, most people tend to be right-handed so this feels more natural. "It is the left hand that pushes the cart, and the right hand that is our grabbing hand," says Underhill. Due to this flow, the things you are most likely to purchase tend to be on the right hand aisle while promotions on the left are designed to help shift the less popular goods.
Pricier items are placed at eye height. The cereal aisle is a good example, where healthier cereal is at the top, big bags of oats and other bargain cereals are generally on the bottom shelf and more expensive, big-name brands are at eye level – easy to see and reach. Some items are deliberately placed at children's eye height, such as highly-advertised cereals. You cannot assume that items on sale at the end of an aisle are a good deal. Those endcaps are sold specifically to companies trying to promote a product, observes Underhill, consumer expert and author of What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping.
The music you hear is not just a random playlist. Dubbed 'Muzak,' it is carefully selected by an 'audio architect' who has analysed the store's demographic. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Coercion: Why we listen to what they say (1999), says grocery shoppers respond best to Muzak that has a slower tempo, making a whopping 38% more purchases when it is played overhead. By contrast, fast-food restaurants use Muzak that has a higher number of beats per minute to increase the rate at which a person chews. There are 74 Muzak programmes in 10 categories, ranging from indie rock to hip-hop and classical, which are mapped out in 15-minute cycles that rise and fall in intensity using a technique known as 'stimulus progression,' writes Martin Lindstrom, marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.
Shopping carts are getting bigger because research shows that consumers buy more when they can fit more in the cart. Multi-packs are also getting bigger, because the more people buy, the more they tend to consume. If you used to buy a six-pack of coke and drink six cans a week but now buy a 12-pack because that's the new standard size, you're probably going to start drinking 12 cans a week, Jeff Weidauer, former supermarket executive and vice president of marketing for retail services firm Vestcom, told Reader's Digest. Customers think that when they buy in bulk, they get a better deal. But that's not always the case. Work it out yourself, and only buy as much food as you can eat before it goes off.
Supermarket pricing is often described as a "dark art". Are offers like 'Was £3, Now £2' or 'Half Price' genuine? In Britain, supermarkets have been caught out on putting up prices shortly before discounting them heavily. The Office of Fair Trading clamped down on 'yo-yo pricing' and eight major supermarkets (Aldi, Co-Op, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons,Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose) signed up to a set of principles drawn up by the watchdog in late 2012. The principles also say that pre-printed value claims such as 'Bigger Pack, Better Value' must be true.
However even with those principles, the question is whether products were ever priced realistically. Two for one offers are a money illusion, as you may end up buying more than you need. The Office for National Statistics does not include two for one offers in its inflation numbers on the grounds that they are not a genuine discount, as consumers may not have wanted the second item.
Another well-practised trick is to make promotions very specific and put the sign next to a full-price item. Often customers get confused and end up grabbing the wrong item.
Lindstrom says the average consumer tends to remember the price of only four items: Milk, bread, bananas, and eggs. They often don't have the faintest idea whether they are getting a good deal or not. But the bulk of what shoppers buy they buy every week. So if you are really methodical and keep your old receipts, you would know when something is on sale and stock up then.
If you have a store loyalty card, supermarkets track your spending and send you targeted vouchers through the post to remind you to shop and purchase certain brands. This can work in your favour if you were going to buy them anyway, but might prompt you to buy something you didn't really want or need.
Watch out for 'speed bumps' of goods that go together – for example seasonal displays such as a bunch of Halloween-themed items - in aisles or at entrances. Sample stations along with recipes also slow you down and give you a taste of new products or lesser-known foods such as kale. Mobile displays, LED lighting, floor graphics, ceiling hangers or digital or video marketing are other common marketing tricks.
Chocolates and other sweets have long adorned checkout counters where bored kids are nagging their parents to buy them a treat. Supermarkets have come under pressure from the government to move chocolate away from checkouts and some have responded. Lidl has justbanned sweets and chocolate bars from the checkout of its 600 UK stores and vowed to replace them with dried fruit and oatcakes.