Saturday, September 23, 2023

Another Problem With Rewards Programs...

Dear Zenni Rewards VIP,

We are excited to announce that a NEW Zenni Rewards loyalty program will be debuting in October. In order to make room for our new program, we will need to end our current Zenni Rewards loyalty program on Sunday October 8, 2023.
Rewards programs are not forever.

I wrote about rewards programs and why they suck, before, twice, I think.  They are "customer loyalty" programs designed to reward repeat customers, but in the end, they kick the customers right in the teeth.  And apparently, customers tolerate this.

I wrote before how the old McDonald's app was a nightmare.   You could order food with it, but the store would claim not to have received the order but your credit card would still be charged.  McDonald's finally threw in the towel and found a new provider for their app, but this meant they cancelled the "rewards" program (no great loss to me, I used the app three times, only two times, successfully).  But others had hundreds, nay, thousands, of "points" accumulated and hoped to use them for future purchases.  Like that, those points evaporated into the ether.  That worked out well for McDonald's, didn't it?

Quite frankly, I haven't been to a Micky-D's in a long time, which is a good thing.  While you could score some "deals" on the kiosk, they started closing the in-store registers and going to an all-drive-through format, where you are pressured to order in ten seconds or less and the only things appearing on the "menu" are $11.95 Super-sized value meal deluxe artisanal sandwiches.

McDonald's claims there was no physical way to transfer the rewards points to the new app (it is like cold fusion - impossible to do!) so they just wiped out all the points you earned.  Of course, they could have transferred the points (a simple bot could crawl the database and log all the points - it would take a weekend to do) but since that would cost money (hiring programmers) and since they make more money by throwing away your points, they went with the second option.

And not without precedent.  Airlines used to offer "free flights" after 25,000 frequent flyer miles.  Overnight, they changed the amount of points needed for a free flight to 50,000. Before then, well, planes were half-empty most of the time, so you could actually use points this way.  Today?  Planes are overbooked and there are no free seats.  The best you can hope for is an upgrade to a better seat or to business class - but even those seats are taken, usually by a "premiere" member who has more points than you.

Another game that the airlines played (and Kampground of America - KOA - played) was to make it so that points expired over time.  Back in the 1960's you could accumulate airline miles and when you retired a decade later, use them to take the family to Hawaii.  No longer the case!  I had a number of miles on US Airways (Now American) and they told me than unless I paid a fee the miles would expire.  I let them expire.  Flying on an airplane today has all the appeal of a major root canal.  Who would be idiotic enough to subject themselves to that!

KOA did a similar deal - unless you accumulate a shitload of points in one year, your points "expire" at the end of the year.  So if you only go to a KOA once or twice a year, the points mean nothing.  And at $50-$100 a night (versus $11 at the Army Corps Parks) who can afford that?  And are you really "saving money" by chasing after points?  Of course not.

Uber had a rewards program as well - shut down in 2022.  You can understand why - even with the staggering fees they charge riders and the pittances they pay drivers, they are still losing money (Maybe the executive salaries have something to do with that).  They were following Lyft's lead in this.

The list goes on and on.  Companies either wipe out rewards points, or change the terms of the program so you can't earn anything - or they make it damn difficult to cash in those rewards.

The only "reward" you should seek is cold hard cash - and even those kinds of programs change their terms all the time.  Credit card companies used to offer generous "rewards" but they found out that people like me, who pay off their credit card balance daily never end up paying that sweet, sweet, 22% interest on a perpetual revolving balance.  That's just not cricket!  So 3% cash back on all your purchases, turns into 3% back on a selected category (gasoline) and 1-2% on everything else.  Santa is a takie-backie, ain't he?

Oh, by the way, if a company does offer "rewards" and the options are cash or saving up points for a free toaster or a meal at a restaurant, take the cash.  Our Obamcare plan has "rewards" points for watching videos about staying healthy.  I take the rewards as cash, in the form of a debit card (about $300 a year!) to pay co-pays at the doctor or for prescriptions, etc.  You can also use them to get a "free" toaster - but if you look at the "points" needed, you are better off buying your toasters at Walmart.  Most rewards programs are this way - they assume you will not think of "points" in terms of cash, and spend accordingly.  If they offer cash, that is usually a better deal.

I got the above e-mail today from Zenni, which sells glasses for cheap, online.  Both Zenni and eyebuydirect have pretty low prices on glasses, but both have all the charm of a carnival barker.  Buy now and get one free!  Half price on frames!  BoGo! NoGo? HoGo!  BlowGo! RoGo! - whatever.  The deal is, of course that their frames are startlingly cheap ($5 and up) but the lenses can cost $100 or more.  Still cheaper than the "boutique" optometrist in town, but the pricing is confusing at best - by design.  And they will SPAM the shit out of your inbox, particularly as of late.

I had bought maybe four pairs of glasses between myself and Mr. See from Zenni (far more from eyebuydirect).  They last a year or so of constant usage.  And sometimes you get a pair that you just don't wear very much for some reason.  So it is cheaper, but buying from either site is annoying.

Zenni has - or had - a "rewards" program and I qualified for such gimmies as free shipping (whoop-de-fucking-do!) and having my phone number etched inside the temple of the glasses (handy!).   So I didn't lose too much in the way of "rewards points."  I am sure others are pissed.  And they provided such short notice (two weeks!) to spend your points, you have to wonder whether making points "expire" is a neat way of getting people to buy desperately by a deadline.   A good salesman always pushes the pressure points on the prospect to get them to buy now.  "I had another customer interested in this very same car!  He said he was coming back tonight to buy it!"

The best deals, as I noted time and time again, are where you exchange cash and get goods or services in return. No coupons, no rebates, no rewards, no BoGos, no gas club discount, or sales pricing.  The latter are all used to obfuscate the real price of an item, and to get you to think you got a "deal" when in fact, you just purchased an item, or worse yet, bought something you really didn't need or want or bought more than you needed or wanted because it was "on sale!" or whatever.  That is the goal of all these programs - to get you to overconsume and to buy when you are not really interested in buying.

This is, of course, not to say you should march into a car dealer and demand to pay sticker price (which no one actually pays, unless they are really dense).  We are forced to play these discount games because they are thrust upon us.  But in some instances, the cleanest deal is the best deal.  The regular retail price at WalMart is usually less than the effective price of a BoGo at Publix.  But I have friends who are convinced that since they are "getting one FREE!" that the price at Publix is better - even though it is more than twice as much as the regular price for the same item at Wally World (and you don't have to buy two, if you don't want to!).

I wish these stupid retail games would go away, but for the most part, they won't - because ordinary people continually get sucked into them and will actually pay more or buy things they don't want because of these games.

People are idiots.  More on that, later!