'Smart card' could reward motorists who buy drink

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BP Oil and the off-licence chain Thresher are said to be considering a joint "loyalty card" scheme, amid fears from the anti-drink-drive lobby that it could encourage motorists to buy more alcohol.

It could be the latest move in a huge proliferation of schemes that attempt to persuade customers to use shops or garages more frequently by awarding "points" for money spent which can then be used as discounts or towards gifts.

The petrol company is understood to be looking at a "smart card"-based loyalty programme, to be launched in the latter half of next year along the lines of Shell's "Shell Smart".

Cards are swiped at the checkout and points credited in line with the amount spent. Shell, the first company to use a microchip card, rather than magnetic stripe, earlier this month linked up with John Menzies. Both retailers have done deals with other major companies and now offer points which can be put towards airmiles, gifts, charitable donations and cinema tickets, No contracts have yet been signed but BP and Thresher are said to be "exchanging letters of intent to pursue talks on the subject", according to the trade paper, Marketing Week.

A spokesman for BP refused to confirm or deny that it was talking to Thresher, but said it was concentrating on its on- going promotion "That's Entertainment", which offers the chance to save points towards CDs, music systems and TVs.

"It's possible we've been talking to Thresher," he said. "We talk to lots of people about promotions ... If there's a good idea I'm sure we'll be looking at it."

A spokeswoman for Thresher said the reports were "speculation", adding: "Other than the promotions going on in our stores there are no schemes going on at the moment."

Any link up between BP and an off-licence chain for a promotional scheme could lay the company open to charges of encouraging drink-driving. A spokesman for Alcohol Concern said last night: "We'd be concerned at the risk if motorists were targeted in a marketing plan to increase their purchases at off-licence chains. People who would be buying more drink would be motorists and that could carry an increased risk of drink-driving."

Loyalty schemes are seen as a highly effective way of "locking customers in" to one particular store. Whether they benefit the customer or the store is the subject of debate.

The big supermarket chains have proved particularly keen - Tesco launched one in February, Safeway launched a loyalty card four days ago, and Sainsbury's is currently halfway through the six-month promotion period for its card. All three schemes offer between 1 per cent and 3 per cent discounts. Both Sainsbury's and Tesco require a minimum of pounds 10 to be spent before any points, are accrued, while Safeway gives a point for every pound.

Increased sales are not the only bonus for supermarkets. Each time a card is swiped, it registers not only the total amount spent, but exactly what it has been spent on. The supermarkets can therefore build up customer profiles.

The National Consumer Council reserved judgement on the cards. "If you're getting something for nothing that's always all right for us," said a spokesman. "But there's the aspect that people are becoming captive customers, building up points when it takes a phenomenal amount to get anything. It benefits the shops more than the consumer in the long term."

Texaco

Launched a global Visa card. If used to buy petrol at a Texaco garage, it gives you two "stars" per pounds 10; anywhere else gives one "star". You don't have to spend more than pounds 10. "Stars" buy you "premium goods" ranging from CDs to flights to New York.

Safeway

ABC cardholders can claim money off in four different ways: discount on their shopping bill; money off particular products; services such as a car wash; or free cinema tickets. Discount is 1 per cent - a point for every pounds 1 spent. No lower limit for qualifying spend.

Tesco

The Tesco Clubcard and Student Clubcard are credited with a point for every pounds 5 spent, with a minimum spend of pounds 10 per shopping trip (pounds 5 for students and over-sixties). Fifty points earn vouchers worth pounds 2.50, or for students, 60 points earn vouchers worth pounds 3.00.

Sainsbury's

The Savercard, launched in July for a six-month period, offers up to pounds 50 off your shopping bill. Customers get five points for every pounds 10 they spend, but have to spend over pounds 10 to start off with. Benefits those who spend more.

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