Let’s play a quick game, shall we? Open up your wallet and take a quick count of how many loyalty cards lurk inside. By loyalty card, I mean anything that tracks your purchases at a certain business- a stamp card, a savings card- whatever. Now take a second to think about how those cards affect your behavior. Does a loyalty card make you want to go to a specific business more often? Do you expect preferential treatment because of your loyalty card? Or do the cards just add dead weight to your wallet?
The general strategy behind loyalty cards is that they incentivize consumers to keep coming back because there is something in it for them, be it points, discounts, etc. But the truth is, a lot of loyalty cards sit unused. And a lot of people collect loyalty cards from competitors within the same category rather than picking one brand and sticking to it. Which is exactly what business owners DON’T want- they don’t want the cards to enable their customers to go to their competitors.
But what about when business owners flip loyalty schemes on their side? A coffee barista in London has done just that. Rather than issuing a loyalty card for his own business, the owner of Prufrock Coffee in East London has come out with a DISloyalty card. Instead of offering customers a free coffee after they visit his shop 8 times, Gwilym Davies’ card helps out his fellow small coffee shop owners. His “disloyalty” card lists the names of several other local coffee shops. A customer must visit all of the shops on the card to get a free coffee at Davies’ store. So instead of pushing consumers to his business, Davies is pushing consumers to coffee itself. His focus isn’t so much on increasing his own sales: it’s on growing consumer appreciation for craft brews. I’m sure that deep down Davis hopes customers like his coffee the best, but his strategy to create broader appreciation for coffee culture is good for business regardless of individual customers’ favorite brews.
The disloyalty scheme makes a lot of sense for a category full of small niche players. So much of artisanal industry depends on getting consumers excited about the idea of local, of craft, of unique. And growing the overall category is sure to benefit every player within it. It’s a lot less likely to work for a business like a department store- there simply isn’t the same type of intrigue. But it could work for small bakeries, local creameries, etc. It’s especially well-suited to where US culture is right now in terms of food appreciation. A 2008 study by Packaged Facts put the number of US “foodies” at 14% of the adult population. That’s 31 million adults who actively seek new flavors and new food experiences. Could you imagine how excited those people would be to get rewarded for trying lots of local businesses?
I’ve never come across this type of scheme in my consumer life, but I really hope more local businesses adopt the model. I’d definitely have a free coffee by now if my local stores got in on this type of scheme!