Ralph Mathekga: Why we need to question shopping rituals and the ubiquitous loyalty store card

It is senseless that the best way to get people to pay what they do not need or want, is to reward them with exactly what they do not need, writes Ralph Mathekga.

It's that time of the year when South Africans and other people on this planet splash on shopping; getting things for families and friends to cheer them up during the holidays.

The yearly shopping ritual called Black Friday has set in motion the holiday shopping spree. Deals and bargains are all over the stores, and annual pilgrimage to our growing portfolio of shopping malls is on course.

I missed out on Black Friday because I was working and could not escape to satisfy my craving for buying things that I most likely do not need. Online shopping is also intensifying in South Africa, with some items only a click away.

Let me be a party pooper; I hate bargains.

When I hear an offer of a bargain, I know extortion is about to start.

The first thing I cannot stand about shopping these days is the incessant insistence that I need to have loyalty cards for each store under the sun.

When I go to a restaurant I get asked if I have so-and-so a card which I usually do not have.

I have endured tough lectures by well-meaning waiters who insist that I am losing out if I do not have a loyalty card.

I often respond that my visit to a restaurant or a store at that time whenever the Patron Saints of Mullah allows such a visit, is intended only to enjoy a meal and not to collect loyalty points.

I often indulge the waiters and at times the cashiers at retail stores, where I insist to them that my visit that day was aimed only at buying a specific quantity of goods I need.

I usually promise - depending on my schedule of course - to set aside a day and time for collecting loyalty points.

If I were to carry all the loyalty cards I'm asked about at shops, I will need a huge man bag in which to carry those cards.

Even more demanding, the cards will be so many that I will need to employ a full-time staffer to monitor which cards have enough points for me to redeem the benefits.

This will be very demanding on me. I do not have a problem losing out on loyalty points. The only issue is being reminded that I lost out. This really ruins my shopping experience and creates a sense of dissatisfaction.

If someone ask me if I have a loyalty card and end the story right there, then I'll be fine.

Telling me that I am losing out on points is really going far.

This is because I know that the loyalty points system is not designed to benefit me as a consumer. How can I be a happy consumer if I decide to stick to one shop and get a badge that I shop there obsessively?

The effect is that I will most likely be moulded to ignore other shops because buying elsewhere will be to lose points.

Subscription to loyalty points effectively discourages consumers to compare prices across the stores.

Once one subscribes to loyalty points, one focuses on accumulating points and the price of goods is no longer a factor in deciding where to shop.

One last point that irks me about retail shops is the way they dangle unnecessary bargains in front of my eyes!

Most times I go to the shops with a clear intention about what exactly I want to buy. For example, when I leave my home to go buy milk, I have already decided I want a specific quantity, perhaps a one litre bottle of milk.

Just when I'm about to pay for that one litre of milk I deliberately picked then I get told if I buy three litres, I will only pay for two.

The idea is that I’m getting a bargain on one litre of milk!

In this great offer, no one ever tells me why one litre of milk that I came to shop for is not adequate for my needs.

Why under the sun will someone try to convince me to buy an extra item I do not need so that I get a reward of another extra item that I also severely do not need?

It is senseless that the best way to get people to pay what they do not need or want, is to reward them with exactly what they do not need.

That's buying three items for the price of two while all you wanted was just one item.

Let's go out there and question the logic of such bargains, South Africa!

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

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