Warning of ‘problems’ with supermarket loyalty could lead to overspending

Image source, Getty Images

  • Author, Jennifer Meierhans
  • Role, Business reporter

New ‘challenges’ at supermarkets, which reward customers with extra loyalty points if they buy more, could lead to overspending, consumer groups have warned.

Four of Britain’s biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – are now offering bonus points to members of their loyalty programs if they meet their spending targets.

The supermarkets all say their schemes offer their customers better value and more personalized savings.

But consumer group Which? and debt charity StepChange warned that setting shopping challenges could push people to spend more than they can afford.

These challenges are the latest development in supermarket loyalty card systems, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

At the same time, food prices rose by almost 20% year-on-year last year – the highest level since the 1970s – and are only now returning to “more normal” rates.

“The competition between supermarkets is fierce at the moment, and they’re all shouting about how many prices they’ve cut,” says Ele Clark, retail editor at Which?. “But the fact remains that food, on the whole, is still much more expensive than it was just a few years ago.”

Ged Futter is a former buyer for Asda and now advises suppliers on how to negotiate with retailers. He said personalized pricing and challenges were simply a way for supermarkets to compete for customers.

“They look at the products you buy over the course of the month and then give you offers to get you to buy that product from them again,” he said.

The challenges vary from supermarket to supermarket and involve more frequent shopping or reaching a spending target for specific products within a certain time frame.

‘Like a game’

Image caption, Jo Rourke thinks it pays to shop around

Jo Rourke, a single mother of three from Manchester, told BBC shoppers to “act with caution” when it comes to loyalty card challenges or missions.

“The terminology of ‘challenges’ can make it feel like a game and if you’re someone who gets caught up in this kind of thing, it can be quite dangerous,” she said.

Ms Rourke – who shares tips on how to save money at the grocery store on her @thismumcooks social media accounts – said she did I don’t think challenges at the grocery store would encourage her to do more shopping in one store.

“I don’t think it pays to be a loyal customer. I think it pays to shop at all the supermarkets near you,” she said.

The average person has loyalty cards from three supermarkets, according to data from research agency Kantar.

  • Learn to praise: Get to know the costs of the items you regularly buy so you can see what’s a good deal and what’s not
  • Compare price per 100g: Look along the shelf for similar items, as loyalty prizes may not be the cheapest option.
  • Set a budget and stick to it: Often supermarket vouchers or challenges require you to spend more, so don’t be tempted to overspend
  • Stock to: To take advantage of a coupon, buy staples such as pasta, rice, or canned foods in bulk with a long shelf life
  • Use technology: Use independent supermarket comparison apps to save your favorite items and receive notifications when they drop in price


Mrs. Clarke which one? told the BBC: “As many families struggle to make ends meet, it is important that supermarkets do not overdo these challenges and encourage shoppers to spend beyond their means to access rewards.”

It is investigated whether loyalty prices are a real promotion or can mislead shoppers, whether they disadvantage certain groups and whether they influence purchasing behavior and how supermarkets compete with each other. An update on the findings is expected in July.

Simon Trevethick, head of communications at StepChange, said: “While retailer loyalty programs can provide useful discounts to customers, if spending is incentivized, there is a risk that people may end up spending more than they initially planned or could afford.” He urged anyone in financial difficulty to contact the charity.

The BBC asked Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons for their response to concerns that their loyalty challenges could lead to overspending.

A Tesco spokesperson said the challenges are “all about rewarding customers for buying the products they regularly buy”.

Sainsbury’s said bonus points were “issued based on the number of stores completed, with a minimum qualifying spend of £1 per store”.

Asda and Morrisons did not respond.

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