Keep it simple, stupid!

June 27, 2012 § 6 Comments

My best friend’s husband has a talent (one of many) that is singularly useful – he buys great wallets. And he buys them for me, which makes it an extra-special talent. I’m fussy about wallets, you see. To live up to my exacting standards, they have to be red, they have to have a zip pocket on the outside for change, and inside there has to be space for cards. Many, many, many cards.

It’s not what you’re thinking. These are not credit cards. No, I only have one of those for emergencies (well, okay, sometimes I convince myself that it’s an emergency when it’s not). Mostly, these are store loyalty cards – Woolworths, Pick ‘n Pay, Clicks, Exclusive Books, the two nurseries I frequent, the dog food shop, the health store, the pizza joint … you get the picture. I like a bit of discount, as you may have gathered.

I come from a fairly long line of savers. My granny, who lived through WWII, was one of the most frugal people I know, and my mother, a forester’s daughter, taught us from a young age to use both sides of the paper when we were drawing, and to reduce, re-use and recycle long before it was fashionable to do so. And, while I’m as prone to the occasional splurge as the next person (I famously went to the local mall to buy bread and milk once, and came home having spent R900 at the Woolworths sale), I’m thrifty by nature.

I spent some time as a consumer journalist, and I had occasion to interview Isabel Jones once or twice when she was alive, and she was a great supporter of customer loyalty programmes. I clearly remember her saying to me: “I support anything that saves the consumer some money.” As a cash-strapped consumer and freelance writer well acquainted with the famine end of the feast-and-famine cycle, so do I.

But I’m also fairly savvy about saving my cents (in my humble opinion). I’m not the sort who will drive to the cheese shop 25km away to save 50c/kilogram on a block of Cheddar, nor do I rush to fill up my car before midnight when the petrol price goes up in the hope of saving a couple of rand on a tank of fuel. That makes no sense to me at all. And while I love my discount as much as the next person, I’m well aware that loyalty programmes are not about big chain stores benevolently giving consumers discount on their goods. (Does anyone really believe that?) Mostly it’s about trying to keep consumers in their shops rather than their competitors’ shops. (And gathering information for research, and, and… I know. There are other agendas, which I’m not going to get into here.)

In essence, then the idea is to encourage consumers to keep shopping, and shopping in their stores. Fair enough. But then they make it complicated. It’s beyond me. So, dear South African retailers, because the wonderful world of the internet allows me to do so, I’ve decided to give you some advice from a harried consumer, for free. Here it is – are you ready?

Please, please, please don’t complicate my already stressed-to-the-limit life! The simpler your system is, the more likely I am to use it, and then you can rub your hands in glee as your various other agendas are met. That really is all there is to it.

Essentially, you all need to learn from Woolworths, whose system is elegantly simple (for we shoppers, at any rate). And no, Woolworths is not paying me to say this. When I shop at Woolworths, all I have to do is swipe my card, and my discounts are reflected immediately at the till. No mess, no fuss. It’s a beautiful thing. (And if they have the technology to do this, why don’t you?)

Look at Clicks, who’ve probably been doing their cash-back system longer than anyone else in the country. (And the system still hasn’t changed.) After I’ve swiped my card at the till I get my cash-back vouchers in the post, but I have to punch them out of the letter they arrive in and remember to put them in my purse before I can use them (this usually takes me at least a month). They’re only valid for a set period, and they invariably end up as crumpled, battered bits of cardboard by the time I remember to use them. And then I have to buy goods that are worth more than the amount printed on the voucher, because you can’t get change from your voucher. Exclusive Books (EB) do the same, except I have to print my own bloody voucher! But more about them later.

Now I do understand the thinking behind this: that I’ll come into your store and buy something I wasn’t planning to buy, in order to spend thee amount printed on my voucher, and that with any luck, my eye will fall on something else and I’ll buy that too. Frankly, I don’t believe consumers are that stupid, particularly in the current economic climate. All that kind of thinking does, Clicks and EB, is increase my level of irritation with your brand. I begin to associate it with ‘hassle’, which I’m assuming is not the association you want me to have.

Pick ‘n Pay take this to a whole new level. Yes, they have a card that you swipe each time you shop, but if you want to claim your discount, you have to go to special machines at the store entrance before you shop, and go through a bunch of steps on a sticky touch screen (yay), which eventually produces a voucher. Then it has to be handed over at the till, to be subtracted from the total… hassle, hassle, hassle. That’s all I’m saying.

And then Exclusive Books launched their stickers campaign. I wish I could tell you how it worked, but I can’t be bothered to read through the long explanation in the e-mail they sent me. When I expressed this sentiment on Twitter, they apologised and sent me a video link to look at instead. I’m sorry, EB, I’d love to, but again, that feels like a hassle – an extra complication that I just don’t need in my life right now. You should know that internet speeds in South Africa, even with all the improvements, mean waiting for videos while they download, and I just don’t have the time.

Hassle, hassle, hassle – that’s what I’m thinking, EB, just so you know. When I want information on something, I want it fast, and I want it simple. I don’t have time to ‘engage with your brand’. I just want to buy a book, and at the best possible price, or I’ll be downloading onto my e-reader before you can say ‘sticker’.

I don’t know why it has to be so hard. You want me to shop at your stores, and let you have access to my spending habits so you can market more effectively in future? Fine. I’m happy to help in exchange for a small discount. Just make it easy, please, I beg you. Make my life easier, and I’ll be your most loyal customer. Just ask Woolworths.

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