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I’d better make this review good because apparently Tesco have a special power over Ciao that results in certain negative reviews about them being deleted.
Well, would you believe it’s been nearly ten years since Tesco launched the little blue card that we all seem to love or hate? Since then we’ve seen Tesco’s unstoppable growth into every corner of our lives. The company now accounts for a staggering 28 percent of the British grocery market, with its nearest competitor Asda lagging way behind on 16 percent.
It seems that our old friend the Clubcard has got something to do with it.
Other supermarkets have seen their loyalty cards come and go while Clubcard has never faltered. Safeway ditched their ABC Card after a four year spell, Asda ran a pilot scheme in a handful of stores in 1999 (also called Clubcard) but later ditched it, and Somerfield pulled out of the Premier Points scheme (but have recently launched a new loyalty card). There was even talk in last week’s Mail on Sunday that the new boss of Sainsburys is toying with the idea of pulling out of Nectar - a move that would surely leave the troubled purple card in tatters. Others, like Morrisons, have never had loyalty cards full stop.
If you haven’t got one already, you can pick up a Clubcard and start earning immediately at any branch of Tesco. You’ll need to fill in your name and details and send it back before you can reap the rewards, though. You probably won’t need me to tell you that you earn one point for every full pound spent at Tesco. Fags, lottery tickets and prescription medicines are excluded. It’s probably the law. I don’t know. The good news is that points can be earned on fuel purchases from Tesco petrol stations and on everything purchased from their online retailing which includes books, music, flowers and electrical goods. You can frequently get ‘bonus points’ on Tesco financial products (the current offer is 1,000 points when you take out pet insurance, and last year I got 1,500 points for buying Tesco car insurance). The Tesco credit cards also give Clubcard points which only equate to one point for every TWO pounds spent - in other words a return of 0.5 percent.
Clubcard has ‘partners’ which means you never actually have to enter a Tesco store to build up points. The most noteable include Powergen who supply domestic gas and electricity, Travelcare (part of the Co-op), and Beefeater restaurants, all of whom deliver one point for every pound spent. There are more (Avis car hire, Marriott Hotels, Johnsons dry cleaners, Nationwide Autocentres, National Tyres and Dollond & Aitchison) but it’s a forever changing lineup.
The redemption side of Clubcard is probably the least flexible out of all the loyalty cards. You are sent a quarterly statement in the post which contains your personalised vouchers, rounded down to the nearest 50 pence and valid for two years. With these vouchers come a handful of ‘money off’ vouchers offering small discounts against products that Tesco know you buy regularly. If you’ve accrued points worth less than £1.50 in any quarter, you won’t get a statement but your points will always be rolled over to the next quarter.
There is now an overwhelming choice of ways to spend the vouchers. The Clubcard Deals brochure, sent out to cardholders and available free in-store, is the bible for hardcore Clubcard members like me. Earlier this year Clubcard Deals improved their redemption rate by offering a wide range of leisure and travel deals at a quarter of their normal price if you pay with Clubcard vouchers. I feel that I must tell you about the exceptional generosity of this new deal.
Here’s my pick of the bunch:
• £11.25 in Clubcard vouchers gets you 12 Blockbuster Video Rental Tokens worth £45.00 • £2.50 in Clubcard vouchers gets you £10.00 worth of vouchers to use for servicing or MOT at Nationwide Autocentres • £2.50 in Clubcard vouchers gets you £10.00 worth of vouchers for Avis or Holiday Autos car rental
There are fantastic Clubcard Deals to be had with flights from KLM, BMI and FlyBe airlines, plus numerous ferry operators. In every case the value of your Clubcard vouchers will be multiplied by four, but you will often find that you have to buy the product or service at full price and can’t combine your Deals tokens with any other advertised discounts. For 75 percent off, I'm not complaining.
I’ve barely touched the surface of Clubcard Deals. The list seems endless: theme parks, magazine subscriptions, health clubs, the chain of Yates’s pubs, Megabowl ten pin bowling, Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia restaurants, Ramada, Marriott and Moat House Hotels, Cosmos Holidays - all for a quarter of the regular price when you pay with Clubcard vouchers. If you don’t have enough Clubcard vouchers to pay in full, you can part pay for any of the deals in cash.
The absolute blinder was the offer I took out last month. £11.25 in Clubcard vouchers got me a year’s RAC membership (normal cost £45.00). I can confirm that there was no catch.
My only grumble is the old fashioned and slow way in which Clubcard Deals are redeemed. You have to send your Clubcard vouchers in the post to the Clubcard Deals department with a paper order form that comes in the brochure (send them by Recorded Delivery if they're worth more than a fiver). In most cases they then send you another voucher entitling you to the deal you have chosen. In my case this involved yet another form which needed to be filled out and sent to the RAC. The whole thing took about four weeks. I wish it could all be done online or in-store.
Ironically, the Clubcard Deals scheme has now totally eclipsed the Air Miles scheme which Tesco Clubcard joined forces with in 2002 after poaching it from Sainsburys. £2.50 in Clubcard vouchers can be exchanged for 60 Air Miles, but the days of good deals with Air Miles seem to be gone forever. My advice? Forget Air Miles. And whatever you do, DON’T opt to have all your Clubcard vouchers automatically converted to Air Miles. You can’t change them back and you’ll almost certainly get a worse deal from Air Miles than the equivalent you would find in the Clubcard Deals brochure.
One of the main reasons that people dislike Clubcard is the perceived invasion of privacy that happens when a company holds all of your shopping habits on computer and uses this information to their advantage. These fears are well founded; I don’t particularly like anyone knowing the details of exactly what I buy and when I buy it. Although Tesco promise that our information will never be ‘misused’, a large question mark hangs over the definition of the word ‘misused’. They already send offers in the post that are individually and very cleverly targeted to make you spend a little more than you normally do. They can detect uncharacteristic drops in your spending level when your custom starts drifting towards another supermarket, and immediately send you a ream of vouchers in the post to get you back in their store. They are more crafty than any of us give them credit for. How long until the government is given full access to our Clubcard records? What then for civil liberties?
I read about a recent case in Wales whereby a customer was followed around her local Tesco by security cameras and was wrongly suspected of stealing an item. The camera operator watched her go to the till and have her Clubcard swiped, then brought her name and address up on his computer screen and phoned the police to say she was leaving the store with stolen goods. The police were waiting for her when she got home. The woman was later cleared of any wrongdoing but Tesco offered no apology for the way they used her Clubcard information.
Loyalty cards don't HAVE to mean the retailer knowing every last detail about your private life, as I discovered recently, but Tesco have cunningly closed off the avenue of personal privacy. Whilst on holiday in America earlier this year I noticed a supermarket chain called Albertsons were running a loyalty card system. It was very similar to Tesco Clubcard apart from in one key area - you didn’t have to register the card in order to use it and claim your rewards. Redemption was made at the point of sale, not via the post. Of course under this system the store is still be able to monitor your spending patterns, but you would remain only a number - they would never actually know your name, age or address. If Tesco really wanted to prove they’re not spying on us, I can see no reason why they couldn’t at least offer this option.
Oh yeah, and I should mention that on Tuesday I received a brand spanking new Clubcard in the post with a new design on it. But, hang on, what’s this? Two miniature Clubcards that I can put on my keyring! In case I’m stupid and forget to take my big Clubcard! But the miniature one does sit uncomfortably with my Ferrari key fob that I bought from Halfords.
In my extensive experiences of shopping and using loyalty cards, Tesco is the ONLY retailer I know of that has never failed to put my points on my card. I’ve had many problems with points not appearing in my Nectar account when using it at BP and Debenhams, even worse problems with Shell’s Pluspoints scheme. On the odd occasion when I’ve been at fault and forgotten to take my Clubcard with me, staff at my local branch of Tesco have always added my points at a later date when I bring my receipt back. I give them full marks for the reliability and user-friendliness of the scheme.
Like all big capitalists, Tesco are naughty people who want us to believe that Clubcards are for our own good. Of course, they’re not, they’re so Tesco can analyse every dimension of our lives and hit us with precision marketing which is more cost effective than ‘carpet bombing’ advertising.
But I’ll keep using my Clubcard and, tragically, I feel an element of fondness towards it. As much as I hold socialist and anti-capitalist principles I can’t see what I’d gain by cutting the little feller in half and giving it back to them.
As Norman Lamont once said about Europe, I’d rather be on the train pissing out of the window than standing on the platform trying to piss into the train as it goes past.
I prefer nectar. The ferrari and tesco keyfob, something not quite right there, better sticking to the melons and plums or firm banana and cherries. Sx
Mayclair 06.12.2005 00:58
An excellent review......Tons of info....and if you want someone to hold your plums........
mattygroves 28.11.2005 16:38
I have to say we use our club card A LOT (though tend to just redeem for groceries) - I have a Tesco credit card, and you get points on that, so I really do get a load of vouchers each quarter (I keep no balance on the card, just collect them points). I too like the little mini-card on the key fob - you get those a lot in the States. Very good review! Cheers.