National Column: If we cut back on reward programs, we’d be miles ahead

by Vinay Menon

If I ever have a nervous breakdown, I’m willing to bet 500 Air Miles it will be caused by the stress of living in a country with too many reward programs.

I know there are real problems out there and this is not one of them. But after scientists fix the environment, eradicate every disease and safeguard humanity from enslavement by robots or
Kardashians, I’d love if one of them could swing by to help me sort out my cards, apps and points.

Until this weekend, I never thought “loyalty fatigue” was a medical condition. But I definitely felt the symptoms – confusion, headache, agitation, elevated heart rate, dry mouth, extreme loneliness – upon returning from Sobeys and the liquor store on Saturday. As I unloaded bags, my wife stormed into the kitchen to ask if I remembered to buy – and this is a direct quote -“qualifying products for Mega Miles.”

I beg your pardon? It was like she was speaking in tongues. I haven’t been this baffled since she described a strange engine noise one evening while wearing Crest Whitestrips. So I shrugged and she asked to see the bills.

As she scanned the receipts, her frown deepened.

It seems my negligence cost “this family” – her preferred term when I screw up – a chance to collect a “bonus offer.” As we stood in silence, with vodka, dish soap and discounted grilling steaks at my feet, I could feel her displeasure, her longing for a husband who understood sponsor partners and time-sensitive promos.

All I could think was: “Mega Miles? We don’t go anywhere!”

The truth is, there are too many loyalty programs in this country and, in the aggregate, they are now disloyal to our sanity. Half the time, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to show the clerk. What do you guys take here? Do you need to scan a barcode? You need to see something on my phone? Should I unhand a coupon or whisper a secret word or do a little jig on the conveyer belt? What point-of-sale hoops must I dive through to save a few bucks and stay happily married?

Then when you finally get into a routine with a loyalty program, they make sweeping changes. PC Plus and Shoppers Optimum is now PC Optimum. And starting this spring, you can earn Canadian Tire money outside of Canadian Tire.

On Monday, the company announced “Triangle Rewards,” an apt name since members may now feel like they are lost in the Bermuda Triangle while trying to rack up “Canada’s second currency” at Sport Chek, Mark’s and Atmosphere.

With every retailer now offering loyalty programs that have terms and conditions longer than L. Ron Hubbard’s Mission Earth, I fear we are careening toward a mental-health crisis as frazzled Canadians trudge around with dangerous amounts of proprietary plastic. If I ever fell into a river on a day I was planning to hit up Home Depot, Staples, the Bay and Costco, the weight of my membership credentials would sink me in 30 seconds flat.

So today I am calling upon Justin Trudeau to introduce a Universal Reward Card (URC). Similar to a driver’s licence or social insurance number, the URC would be accepted everywhere in Canada, good for every transaction at every retailer.

The best part would be the rewards. You know why you never see someone panhandling outside a
Canadian Tire? They know theyíll get stuck with fistfuls of unwanted Canadian Tire money and need to keep begging for eight more years to save 34 cents on an all-weather mat.

But with a government-run URC, the benefits would be unimaginable when compared to the $10 gift cards and a free 11th cup of coffee that is now the norm. Under a URC, the more you help the economy, the more you get back from the state: tax deductions, extra vacation time, free psychotherapy.

Use your points to put out an overflow bag of garbage on collection day. Use your points to get two months off the wait time for your next MRI. Or use your points to score grub at any grocery store, not just one that has engaged in bread price fixing.

Similar to a universal remote control, the URC would streamline the business of rewards and make
Canadians global leaders when it comes to getting free stuff that makes a difference. Soon, the stress of uploading offers or remembering to take card X to store Y would be a distant memory. Soon, we’d never have to waste another minute creating spreadsheets or bickering about Mega Miles before a dinner party.

Let the consumer lemmings in other countries continue their never-ending, labour-intensive quest to get cash back. With a URC, weíd get our life back.

Now that is the ultimate reward.
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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