Bursting With Loyalty

By some standards, I am a very loyal person.

Namely, judging by the number of “loyalty cards” causing my so-called slimfold (now more “jumbo-sized”) wallet to nearly burst at its seams, or by the quantity of conveniently sized rectangular plastic doo-hickeys affixed to my keychain (it would be more accurate to call it a “card chain”), I am incredibly loyal–but that loyalty is spread thin.

My house key?  Barely able to find it, hidden as it is among cards for two service stations’ oil change clubs, drugstore deals, hardware store credits, sports shop memberships, gas discounts and library and fitness club admittances.

My wallet is even worse.  Claiming a home therein are the “Balance Rewards” card for Walgreens, a “Take 10” card for Maurices, a ShopKo “My Extra Savings” card, another library card, a Pizza Ranch member card, a Hilton HHonors card, “Club Carlson,” a Choice Privileges card, an American Eagle “All-Access Pass,” a DQoupon card, Minnesota and Nobles County Historical Society cards, coffee club cards, car wash punch cards, a Minnesota Public Radio member card–not to mention various credit cards, insurance cards, gift cards, organ and blood donor cards, a driver’s license and much, much, more.

Having to flash the proper card at just the right second, wherever one may be shopping, borrowing, filling or visiting, can result in moments of stress and irritation I cannot say I always relish.

“Do you have your [fill-in-the-blank] card?” the dutiful clerk inquires as those in line behind me try not to roll their eyes or tap their toes impatiently.

“Um, yeah, somewhere in here,” I often reply, digging desperately through the maze of colored plastic that somehow seems to stick together when it most needs to be separated.

Adding the Hy-Vee Fuel Saver card to my repertoire recently might be the straw that breaks this camel’s back.  I mean, it was fine to throw a receipt in my vehicle, hand it over upon tanking up, then toss it.  Now, though, I am required to purchase specific items, produce the appropriate card at checkout, and somehow come up with the right card once again after balancing groceries, a phone call or two and a freezing gas pump in between.  (I’m sure it’s at this point the staff at other local gas stations would invite, “Come on down!”)

Other than when it is completely clear what purpose a particular card fills–that is, delivering an immediate and real discount, or serving as a log for blood donation or admission to the YMCA–I’m more than a little skeptical about the real reason for all of these cards.

Sometimes, when I’m once again hunting frantically for a loyalty card at a certain business, it occurs to me I have no idea what, if anything, I’m getting out of the deal; have I received a coupon, or a discount, or a free item in recent memory?   Too often, the answer is no.

Have I been too quick to let these businesses and organizations record my personal data, track my purchases and/or attendance and figure out my patterns?  Is Big Brother watching me?  Am I being “data-mined” in an effort to increase someone’s sales and marketing quota?  Unfortunately and probably, yes.

I may be too much of a sucker for a potential discount, savings or “platinum member status” to sacrifice my cards in favor of redeeming my privacy, wallet space and sanity.  And if others’ keychains and wallets are any indication, I am not alone in making this trade-off, this deal with the demographic and marketing devils.

Loyalty or not, one thing seems clear: even nearly 50 years after the legendary tip in “The Graduate,” the plastics industry remains an excellent investment bet.