Customer value cards, insurance and your privacy

A Richmond area grocery chain recently began a program with several local gas stations to offer discounts on gas based on how much you spent at the grocery store. It’s a nice program, offering ten cents off per gallon for every x dollars spent.  I forget the dollar amount, but we had accumulated about a dollar and twenty cents off per gallon.  So, yesterday, I filled up my car for about six bucks.  Six dollars to fill up my car. That came out to about forty-six cents a gallon.  I have NEVER paid that little for gas. When I started driving, gas was like seventy-nine cents a gallon.  Pretty cool.

Or is it?  This program started months ago when gasoline was nearly four dollars a gallon.  The local grocery chain, owned by a well known family and famous around here for ‘giving back.’  While I am sure that profit was a factor, I am also sure this program was one way for the chain to help out ‘in these times.’  Whatever the motive, people who have actually taken advantage of the program really have benefitted.  And, I am not complaining either.  It’s just that it occurred to me today, that the reason this program works is all due to a little piece of cardboard:  the customer value card.

I’ve never been a big fan of these cards.  For many reasons, privacy being the biggest. It is bad enough that when I use my credit card, both the retailer and card company know how much I spent and what I spent it on.  That is the price I pay for using credit or debit cards.  However, these customer value cards are used with cash as well.  So, even if I did not want to use a credit or debit card, if I use my ‘value’ card, I am still compromising my privacy.  Now, there is a record somewhere of that transaction with everything I bought.  Healthy food or junk food…does not matter it is recorded.  And therein lies one of the most potentially damning piece of evidence for an insurance company to deny a claim. 

Conspiracy theory warning!  What if the insurance companies decided that, as a condition of coverage, they must have your purchase history.  It would not matter if you bought something for yourself, your parents, a friend, whatever.  YOU are recorded as having purchased that box of Twinkies, carton of cigarettes, beer, etc.  Now, you get sick and file a claim. The insurance company polls your history and sees those purchases. Next thing you know, your claim is denied.

This is only one possible misuse of these cards and I’m not saying all companies would comply or even demand the information.  Another misuse, at least in my eyes, could come from the retailer themselves-and already has.  Targeted advertisements.  Now, since the retailer has all of this data on your purchases, they can target certain products toward you.  Even if you do not use all of what you bought.  I may go buy certain products for my wife, but would not have a need for them myself, yet that retailer could see that I bought said product multiple times and, suddenly, I started getting targeted advertising for said product.  Not very nice, is it?

I think that, perhaps, the worst thing about these insidious cards is when you DON’T have one. Does that make you less valuable?  Why should I pay twenty cents more for a bag of lettuce just because I either forgot the card or never had one?  What does that tell a potential customer?  “Well, we want your business, but we’ll only consider you valuable and reward you IF you sign up for this card so we can build a comprehensive history on you.”  Nice.


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