Opinion: What rewards?

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The emails flow in, demanding that we must act fast lest the benefits we earned by customer loyalty will expire. Do we intend to abandon our effort? Was it easy to stand in line at the favored merchant when there was no line at another? We’ve paid a few cents more to stay loyal to the vendor that incessantly reminds us of their appreciation of our commitment, so shouldn’t we reap the promised profit? 

Since the beginning of the human experience, we have come to know that it is good to have friends. In fact, it is imperative. Killing a mastodon by oneself is a bit more difficult than the almost impossible task of doing it in a group. So, shouldn’t our dedication to the people who fly our planes, make our pizzas, fit our shoes and prepare our deli sandwiches bring some reciprocal value?  

A Seinfeld episode, “The Strike,” explored our obsession with fully stamped loyalty cards as Elaine gives hers away accidentally and spends days attempting to regain it. Sure, a free pastrami on rye is good, but how good? Is its care and feeding of greater value than the card itself?  

Whether it is United’s PlusPoints or Microsoft’s Rewards, who is benefiting from the effort? How many of us have seen an incentive bestowed? How much do the providers really want us to be rewarded? Like some grotesque P.T. Barnum, they seem to gloat that there is a “sucker born every minute” and that they are only too happy to take advantage. Are we playing the fool? Set up like the adult version of a corrupt carnival game, they promise big and then fortify against paying out. A few giant stuffed animals are paraded around the fair grounds to get people motivated, but can we win one ourselves?   


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