The Irritations of Modern Life: 71. loyalty cards

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REWARD CARDS, club cards, ABC cards, frequent-shopper cards. Call-them- what you-like-cards; they're those little bits of plastic that clutter up your wallet and invite you to offer the wrong one to the wrong shop. Those bits of plastic that inspire you to be simultaneously loyal to about 20 different supermarkets.

Why do we allow ourselves to be talked into having these things? Fear of offending the kind assistant wielding an application form? A burning desire to get a half-price deal at Butlin's in return for spending your weekly salary on baked beans? The idea that you're saving money?

Not likely. We all know points are pointless and that every little would only help if it meant supermarkets knocked 1p off every item.

Maybe it's our latent snobbery that's satisfied by these things. Selfridges has played on this by carefully dividing its loyalty card scheme into three "tiers": if you're stingy, you're "yellow"; if you're a wannabe, you're "silver"; if you're so wealthy that you've got nothing better to do than hang around designer lipstick departments, you're "gold" (I'm extremely yellow, thanks to a pillowcase - pounds 2.50 in the sale, with an extra 10 per cent off for getting a card).

Those who find that scheme just a bit too vulgar might like Viyella's tasteful Heritage Card, although everyone knows if you're really classy you don't need loyalty cards. Just look at John Lewis.

We want reasonably-priced goods, not a "free" cup of coffee at Meadowhall. Don't we? So why exactly have I got a bathroom cupboard with so many deodorant bottles in it that fishing around in there turns into a game of skittles? Why is my home harbouring three new tubes of sun-lotion (although I've not been on holiday since 1994), a third alarm clock and a collection of bath cushions? Why have I got enough Sheer Blonde shampoo, conditioner and Golden Opportunity Glossing and Grooming Creme to open a hairdressing salon?

Because of - oh no - a loyalty card. Boots has managed to convince even the most sceptical shopper that, by spending money, they are in fact saving money. The two great things about the Boots scheme are: a)you don't have to wait to get your vouchers in your grubby fist and b) you can only "spend" your points on things you want but don't need. Never mind "loyalty" - this card sanctions disgraceful frivolity.

Still. I wonder what I could get for 2,853 points...

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