/ Shopping, Sustainability

Do we still need plastic loyalty cards?

While clearing out my room for a move, I found 32 old plastic membership cards hidden away in my drawers and cupboards – are they really necessary?

32 old cards! My impressive collection spans a few years and consists of loyalty cards for supermarkets, restaurants, coffee chains, health stores and stationery shops.

And that’s not to mention a couple of years’ worth of membership cards for libraries, gyms, leisure centres and breakdown cover.

Why have they all been stashed away and forgotten? Because I don’t need to physically use any of them.

Switching to apps

I’m a fairly casual points and rewards collector, mostly using apps on my phone to store my loyalty card details.

Whenever I’m buying groceries or eating out, I just scan the barcodes stored on my phone to collect my points, or hand over my membership number.

If I need to find my membership number or any other details, I search my emails or check my apps.

I never take my gym card with me when I go, as it operates a pin system on the door. The same goes for my local library when checking out books.

Yet we’re still being sent or issued with unnecessary cards.

I recently signed up to a high street department store’s loyalty scheme at the till. The cashier encouraged me to download their app on the spot to get a discount on my shopping. 

This app has everything I’d need. It contains my membership information, shows my points balance, and can be scanned in store when making a purchase to collect or spend points.

However, a week later I received a completely pointless points card that I’ll never use, plus two smaller cards for my keys.

Card clutter

I also recently received a completely useless card from an online streaming service, complete with unnecessary but important-looking hologram, welcoming me as a member.

These cards aren’t only creating unnecessary clutter or filling up all the slots in our wallets – when trying to get rid of mine I’ve discovered that they generally can’t be recycled.

So unfortunately they went straight off to landfill, where they’ll now sit for hundreds of years. 

If everyone in Britain has as many cards as me lying around, or even more over a lifetime, this is an incredible amount of plastic waste.

I’m not sure why retailers are still sending them out. Is there huge demand for loyalty/membership cards?

Or are they relics of a pre-smartphone world that have never really been questioned? Are companies just trying to make us feel special?

I understand that not everyone has, or is able to, use a smartphone. Perhaps cards could be requested if needed, rather than sent out automatically. What do you think?

I feel that if they were scrapped, we’d have a little less clutter around the home, and less of our personal information lying around, too. Companies would also say themselves money, and do a bit more for the environment at the same time.

Have you got old cards lying around the house? Do you think they’re necessary?


What do people do if they lose their phones when their whole lives revolve around their smartphones? It was a mini-disaster when my purse was stolen years ago now.

I agree that companies should stop using plastic membership and loyalty cards. If necessary, they can be made of recyclable cardboard and I have some that have survived many years.

Backup to the Cloud. A shame you couldn’t back up your purse.

Oh – my purse bulges with them and when I go to use one, of course I can’t find the one I need but always find the ones I use once in a blue moon!

I recently stopped using a number of loyalty cards though. The amount I was saving was just so small and realistically I was often finding myself spending more to get over a threshold or getting sucked into something I didn’t need because I had a voucher for it through the loyalty scheme.

I have three. One I use for shopping at one supermarket and the other I use for points when I use it to shop at its rival store. So I get two sets of points for each shop. This usually generates about £7 once in a while at one, and the other has yet to cough up since this is a recent change. The former decided to close its fresh meat, fish and delicatessen counters, which is why I have moved to the other one. My third is for car fuel, and that generates £3 every so often. I could do without them. They are supposed to keep me loyal, but I wouldn’t change my shopping habits if they weren’t there. As to the plastic, if someone could invent a durable and fraud-proof alternative I would use it. Plastic seems to house security details, codes and holograms well. I don’t know whether cardboard would do as well. Plastic also bends better than most materials.

I’m sure the main purpose of these loyalty cards and apps is to allow retailers to gather data on our spending habits, but I do find some of the bonus money off vouchers to be useful.

Right now, I’m sure its only a matter of time before our new and zealously indoctrinated Government has us all “chipped” so we can be tracked anytime, any place, with or without our personal telescreens. In such a case, those tags might also be used to monitor our retail behaviour, so we might not need to carry all those loyalty cards anymore.

I now use only two cards and these are for supermarkets that are in easy reach. They do not generate much in the way of savings nowadays and checkout operators don’t always ask if I have a card. I might have a go with the apps instead.

The only other cards I have used were the old Marks & Spencer Chargecard, back in the days when the company refused to accept credit cards, and more recently a B&Q card that used to offer a 10% discount on Wednesdays.

Aldi is gradually increasing its share of the market and as far as I know does not operate a loyalty scheme.

Interestingly, my recent supermarket swop has been noticed. Shortly afterwards I received a £7 money off voucher on £50 of shopping. I went back and spent it!

Many discounts are offered on the reverse of till receipts. Trouble is, they usually have to be used before we want to spend them.

That’s what irks me, Alfa. If we do a big shop to stock up on the commodities we get coupons that expire long before we need those products again. There’s only so much bleach and detergent one needs to keep and cupboard space in most homes is at a premium. I guess the redemption rate on many of these coupons is negligible, and if they are only for points [which are now half the value they used to be] the cards are certainly not worth carrying around – but the company can still appear to be generous and claim to be helping us save money.

I wouldn’t be averse to the old-fashioned dividend system coming back though, with a percentage return on one’s total shop in a twelve month period. It is unlikely to happen because retailers like to be able to promote certain products week by week rather than an overall spend. Some of the Nectar coupons we get are for things I don’t think we have ever bought and are not likely to [perhaps we have been crafty and not given away too much information on our household and lifestyle, hence occasionally an offer on baby products, barbecue food or spirits].

I don’t think Morrisons promotes particular products, or if it does I ignore this. On Wednesdays they often send an email where you have to click on a link to activate being given 4000 points if you spend £40, for example, by Sunday. I don’t know if these points are worth £4, 40p or 4p these days.

Me too John.

Our local pet store has closed so we now buy food for the wildlife online. We use several sites with at least 2 belonging to the same company under different names. Every time we order, the following day they send a discount voucher to be used in the next week. We have thanked them and told them it is too soon, but they insist it is random.

Nectar are really crafty these days. They no longer send you emails informing you of offers and you don’t get bonus points unless you remember to log into your account and load offers to your card. Then if you miss the start of a bonus points offer that runs over a month, there are conditions that prevent you completing the offer. – A right swizz.

Those nice folk at Farmfoods deliver their money off vouchers to my door, whether I shop there or not. The vouchers are also available for anyone to download from this website:-https://www.farmfoods.co.uk/pdfs/farmfoods_voucher.pdf

Morrisons and Waitrose only ever send me vouchers or emails to get a reward for spending huge amounts (£80/£90), usually the day after I’ve done my weekly shop. I’m a single person household and don’t spend that amount each week so it’s actually a disincentive to shop there.

John Bacon says:
27 July 2019

I agree. I like to do a supermarket shop once a month or less but I often get pressure to shop weekly to get extra points or discounts.
Why would the supermarket want me to spend £80 per week instead of £320 in one shot, they get my money sooner with the one shot.

East of England Co-op cards run exactly like the old dividend system, with a voucher at the end of a year and last year the return was 2%. For many local villages the Co-op is the only grocery store and even here in Woodbridge they took over the (relatively small) supermarket in town when Budgens were intending to close it, so for many people having a Co-op loyalty card is a no-brainer, since going to an alternative involves driving or a bus.

I put all mine on a keyring and leave in the car. The odd places where I might collect points daily such as the coffee shop I have as an app. The majority of the time I have an app that replaces the use of a card although some scanners struggle reading a mobile screen.

grumpyoneuk says:
27 July 2019

Three useful uses for the old cards:
1. scrapping ice of car windows
2. inserting in card key slots inside hotel rooms to keep power on when you leave the room (how else can you charge all those devices or keep the air-con on.
3.If film & TV are to be believed you can open door locks with them

Lynne says:
27 July 2019

Spare a thought for those who don’t have smart phones. Not everyone does-either out of choice of or financial reasons.
Plastic cards are a pain to carry, though the small ones help, but I wouldn’t not have them. Just carry the ones you use instead of every single one.

Richard says:
27 July 2019

I have one card these days and do use it every time I go to the store. However, most of the food shopping is done on-line these days so the card use is automatic. On line shopping is easier for both my wife and I as both of us have medical issues, with my wife being serious limited in her mobility. Cardboard would not survive, even my wallet eats plastic cards. I have no idea how or why I would put them on a phone, I would find it too clumsy by half to use in a shop.

Bluto says:
27 July 2019

The unnecessary plastic cards are very useful for scraping ice off a windscreen in winter – I always keep a supply of unused loyalty cards and plastic card hotel keys for this purpose. A spare card in a hotel also means that you can leave the air-con on when you go out, where normally you have to leave the key-card in the slot in the room to keep the electricity on.

I’m quite straightforward when offered these cards, or asked if I have one. I just say “I’m not loyal, so no thanks”.

AndyB says:
27 July 2019

When I go shopping I take my wallet, never my phone. I have a couple of loyalty cards which live in my wallet so they are always to hand. Plastic is good because it is durable although I have a cardboard sports club membership card which gets me discounts in a few local shops but it doesn’t have a bar code. Cards are much lighter in weight and significantly smaller than a mobile phone! One card (Nectar) gets used a lot more than the other. I don’t consider Nectar as a loyalty card; I just look upon it a convenient way to offset part of the food bill at Christmas. The Nectar model of being a scheme across multiple brands has faded as such as EasyJet and Homebase have ceased participation. In various shops, I have been offered retailer’s own loyalty cards but the last one I took up (the other card in my wallet) was 3 or 4 years ago but the benefits are very small so it wasn’t worthwhile.

Boots at Luton Airport refused to scan the barcode stored on my card app this month, the assistant said they had been told to only accept the official Boots app. Yet he was happy to scan my boarding card on the easyJet app – presumably for Boots to claim the Vat back but not pass on to me.

I use my Nectar card so I can use the points as a discount in Sainsbury’s at Christmas. The Boots one is questionable as I just get vouchers to spend on items I rarely want or need which have to be spent in a short time. So I’m not making a special journey there to use them. M&S is a similar scheme so no special journey their either, especially as the Kettering store has closed (8 miles away) and I’d have to go to Rushden Lakes, now 18 miles. Tesco means another long journey so ditto. B&Q have an over 65 card you can only use on Wednesdays. That’s been restricted to certain large items I’m not going to buy, so bunging up my purse. I also deplore the fact that these cards know more about you than MI5.

John Hunt says:
28 July 2019

I think your views are condescending to say the least. I have a phone capable of doing everything a card would do but prefer a card by choice. By all means introduce an opt out facility for such cards but don’t stigmatise people who by choice or necessity require such cards by making them opt in.

Being 72 years of age I do not have a smart phone so that option is out for me. My nearest supermarket is J Sainsbury’s ( just under a mile ) with Tesco six miles and Waitrose three miles ( single trip NOT round trip ) so I do most of my food shopping in JS and buy petrol there as well. So without going out of my way I build up quite a stock of Nectar points without it costing me any extra.
These points I save up and use at Argos to buy replacement household items. In the last year I have got a kettle, steam iron, ironing board and outdoor whirled clothe line all without spending any cash.
So yes I do need a card that the relevant shops can read. I do not mind if it is plastic or cardboard etc but it needs to be long life.
Also why did your researcher send her junk cards to landfill. I cut mine into four pieces and put one piece each fortnight into the recycling bin. It would take a felon two months to get hold of all the pieces of one card to stick it together

I shred mine and it mixes in with the paper. I wonder if anyone notices this minor contamination or if it makes any difference to the shreddings at one part in a thousand?

Naqsej says:
28 July 2019

With Samsung Pay (other apps available) I’ve more than halved the size of my wallet. I carry two cards where I’ve had difficulty in some stores using the app, one which doesn’t work on the App and that’s it. My phone pas the bill, holds the cards, gets my library books, and pays for my journey on the Tube. The number of stores which can’t read cards keep falling, and so have my cards.

People with phones don’t need cards, end of. And if you lose your phone, you don’t lose your cards, they’re all there in the Cloud.

They might be useful as an ice-scraper, but 32 of them? Providers should ask, then people who can’t or won’t use a smart phone would get them and the rest of us wouldn’t have them piling up.

Surprised at this question coming from Which? Like cash where not everyone has the electronic means to do without it, apps can’t replace cards for the 1 in 5 who don’t have a smartphone

Steve Mortimore says:
29 July 2019

There is a very useful app called Stocard. You can upload all your cards onto this one app e.g. Waitrose, Co-op etc and then use that when you go shopping. This saves carrying all those cards and is accessible via one app.