When Pick n Pay introduced its rewards programme, Smart Shopper, in 2011, its success was so stunning it took the retailer by surprise.
For every R100 spent, shoppers would receive R1 back in cash-back points, which were initially valid for three years. On certain items, it offered double or triple points, or instant savings. It’s no surprise that Smart Shopper has been voted the country’s favourite rewards programme.
The impact on the bottom line forced the retailer to reassess its offering to its 10-million-plus card-holding customers, so last April, it halved the value: for every R200 spent, customers receive R1 in cash-back vouchers.
On January 1 this year, PnP introduced a new policy, expiring Smart Shopper points 12 months after they were earned.
The move’s not gone down well with many shoppers.
David Ramsay wrote to complain: “I have been an active customer at Pick ‘n Pay for as long as I can remember. I am in my 60s and, although working, I was saving up my points for a small LCD TV.
“In December, I had accumulated R557-odd and was making good progress on my goal. I received an SMS on January 18 informing me to redeem 2513 points that will expire on February 1. I subsequently went to Pick n Pay on January 20 and received a payout of R176. This is definitely not the way to treat loyal customers but I’m sure there are thousands out there with the same gripe.”
David White, who described himself as “disgusted”, wrote: “At the end of last year Pick n Pay took about R400 off my Smart Shopper account without any warning. They have been emailing me every week with details of the special offers that have been available for loading for that week onto my Smart Shopper card.
“They at no stage, however, took the trouble to mention that I had R400 of Smart Shopper points that were going to expire at the end of 2017, and that I needed to convert these points into cash and use them by the end of the year. I now feel that I have been robbed.
“They have been advising us that points expire after one year, but we had no way of knowing when the year was up for these points and when we needed to spend the money by.”
But PnP says it has done all it could to inform customers. The head of marketing, John Bradshaw explained: “We have tried to make sure customers know that their points last a year from the day they are earned.
“We first informed Smart Shoppers about this in November 2016 and have been communicating about expiry across personal emails and SMSes.
“We also realised that some customers may have opted out of receiving emails or SMSes from us, so we put reminders about points lasting a year on till slips too – from early December last year on every till slip across all stores.”
Email fatigue is a factor, which is why so many of us opt out of communication: we simply don’t pay attention to SMSes, or e-mails because much of it is spam. And not many read their till slips thoroughly, so barring tellers being instructed to inform each shopper personally, which is a big ask, it’s down to customers to ensure that they read communications from the retailer.
After all, if you’ve signed up for a rewards programme, you might want to take note.
Bradshaw says the way to avoid forfeiting the points is to exchange them for vouchers or cash before they expire, which will extend their validity to three years.
PnP’s also introduced new technology to communicate with customers on a more personalised level, Bradshaw says, which means they will be told when and how many of their points will be expiring.
“We do hope this will mean customers make the best use of their points. You can see this at the top of our weekly e-mail, for those customers who have given us permission to contact them via e-mail. We would encourage our customers to check how they’ve selected the form of communication they’d prefer so that they don’t miss out on important information, or great deals.”
I also don’t look at e-mails from retailers, but noticed on my most recent Smart Shopper mail that it didn’t mention when the points would expire, only that they would.
Same with the till slip. It’s a crucial detail: without telling consumers when they are about to expire, they aren’t likely to pay enough attention to the message.
By Georgina Crouth for Supermarket & Retailer