So how many loyalty cards do you own?

And do you actually use them?

So how many loyalty or rewards cards do you use regularly? I stress the word regularly. On a quick straw poll of colleagues around the office, wallets and especially purses are full of loyalty cards.

Ask the follow up question of how engaged are workmates with their various rewards programmes and enthusiasm wanes. Consumer behaviour is changing at a rate of knots. In the UK 8 million of us are using our loyalty cards less than we did one year ago, according to figures released by payments processor WorldPay.

I was not greatly surprised to note that as many as 1 in 3 consumers say that they fail to derive any value from their loyalty cards. The reasons are various but include difficulty in spending points and the potential for cards to be lost. I have never forgiven British Airways for its sneaky time bar rules on loyalty points I had accrued.

The Ts and Cs were in the contract right enough – no argument there and it was complete mea culpa – but slashing my balance to zero due to being dilatory in encashing points means that I now choose BA as a last resort. There are a lot of loyalty programmes out there that can at best be described as useless.

For a rewards programme to work, customers need to feel as if loyalty is earned through loyalty to a brand, not through fumbling through their wallet to find a card – so it must be easy to access and spend.

How might this be achieved?

The survey found that 21 per cent want loyalty cards to be stored on a smartphone payment app - dispense with all cards and have a loyalty scheme tied to your smartphone. That number is, I suggest, set to grow and rise sharply.

A number of payments start-ups are launching mobile wallet apps, offering secure contactless payments via smartphone. Earlier in the summer, Zync launched its mobile wallet and then last week international payment technology firm MPayMe announced a new mobile business platform, dubbed ZNAP.

The service from ZNAP optimises transactions through the bundling of secure multi-channel mobile payments with value added solutions – that means rewards to you and me. I have lost count of the number of tech companies claiming to offer the neatest and most novel way for consumers to pay retailers.

If any of the new payments start-ups are to prosper, they would do well to remember that customers are more likely to use payment apps if they also make it easy to redeem loyalty rewards.  There is also an argument that women could hold the key here – they are by a distance more loyal to brands than men. If marketers can get women using mobile payments, combined with a unique customer experience, they are on to a winner.

But as Jane Cunningham, founder of strategic marketing consultancy Pretty Little Head and co-author of The Daring Book for Boys in Business tells me, too few brands are capable of connecting powerfully with the female market. The winners – and losers – among the new tech payments start-ups will certainly be worth watching and one or two will no doubt prosper. The only safe prediction is that their investors will require patience and deep pockets in the short to medium term.

Loyalty card. Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.