/ Shopping

Opinion: cheaper groceries? It’ll cost you privacy

In our latest opinion column, Faye Lipson says shoppers at Tesco are faced with a choice: hand over your data or face higher prices. How do you feel?

While reaching for coffee in Tesco, I noticed something odd. There were two prices on the shelf – the regular price of £6 and, in a larger font and highlighted in yellow, a ‘Clubcard Price’ of £2.70.

Other shelves were dotted with similar examples. I’m not averse to loyalty cards. I’ve had a Clubcard, Nectar card, a Holland & Barrett card, and others in the past. Tesco says 20 million homes hold Clubcards and 6.6 million regularly use the app.

Data sharing

Huge numbers of us willingly share our data on an ongoing basis in exchange for a future discount – a reward for loyalty. But Clubcard Prices now work the other way round. They say: ‘Give us your data now or we will charge more for the same item.’

It’s not about loyalty; it’s forcing you to sign up immediately (which is possible online) or be punished here and now. It’s coercive. Supermarket loyalty cards gather vast amounts of your personal data.

Swipe one with every shop and it builds a picture of your life, including sensitive details, such as the alcohol you drink and medications you take. This insight is hugely valuable to supermarkets – it must be, if they’ll happily halve some of their prices to get it.

What will they do with it and will they use it in ways subtly detrimental to our privacy, health or finances? Beyond vague claims in Tesco’s privacy policy, we don’t know.

Security risks

Wherever vast troves of personal data are collected, there is a security risk. Tesco knows this only too well. In 2020 it reissued 600,000 Clubcards after finding a data breach – although its own systems were not hacked.

In a 2014 breach, personal details (including passwords) of 2,000 online customers were extracted and dumped online, prompting it to suspend accounts temporarily.

Shoppers confronted with such hugely differing prices will need to trade some privacy for cheaper shopping. Those who can afford to pay full price may be able to buy themselves out of this predicament.

How do you feel about data trade-offs like this? Let us know in the comments.

Elaine says:
19 February 2022

On a related theme, Sainsbury’s seems to be pushing hard to get customers to download the Sainsbury’s App. What is their motive? The latest “bribe” was £8 off an in store spend of £60. To generate the coupon needed to scan at the till , one had to download the App onto one’s mobile. I have a Nectar card and use one of the the Smart Scan devices supplied by the store for my shopping but am very against using my mobile for shopping.

Richard says:
19 February 2022

As a 76-year-old pensioner with a wife with serious health issues, we do not visit any stores, preferring the on-line delivery experience. Yes, we have a Tesco club card which is automatically used on every Tesco shop. We do sometimes get a delivery from another chain, they offer some superior prices and selections. There is no way either of us wish to go trawling round every possible supermarket. The time, energy, and fuel would be far too high a price to pay, not to mention any additional health risks. To date, we have been happy to shop this way for a number of years, the only ‘shop’ I visit is the chemist, for other essential supplies. We know they have prescribing records, and that their system checks for potential interactions between items. Internet orders for many other items have been our way of life, with social interaction all too often provided by hospital and clinic visits.

Guido says:
20 February 2022

I phoned Tesco TWICE back in 2018 about their online software, club card accounts and was completely ignored. Being a computer programmer I could have accessed their servers very easily with basic SQL commands. I closed my account and I do not shop at Tesco. I would not trust Tesco’s to hold anyone’s data securely and I detest that having a club card should get you a product directly cheaper.

Mike Simms says:
22 February 2022

We have never had any loyalty cards and when these, frankly insulting, Clubcard Price labels appeared we quickly voted with our feet and switched allegiance to Mr Sainsbury. I’m sure that we are not alone in this.

Alan says:
19 March 2022

Sainsburys are trying to get customers to download their app to customers phones simply because it saves them putting the self-scan hand devices into stores. Why spend their money when they can use a customers???

Yes I feel this is cohesive behaviour by tesco. All I it does is make me avoid them as much as possible.

Alison Johnson says:
24 February 2022

If Tesco penalises me for not having a Clubcard, I won’t be shopping at Tesco. I have NEVER taken ANY company’s card (or equivalent) – for the reason that I do not want to be pressured to buy things I don’t need.

I really do not know what Faye is on about. If someone wants to offer me lower prices by using a loyalty card that’s fine with me. I have no problem with others knowing who I am. In our town Tesco is the only supermarket and we can walk there. We shop there twice a week and many of the workers know us and chat; they live locally too. All this talk about businesses and information, but the only thing that matters is people.

Kevin says:
25 February 2022

I think this is what Faye is on about, so nothing to worry about:

Tesco privacy policy
We may collect:
Information about your online purchases (for example, what you have bought, when and where you bought it and how you paid for it)
Information about your online browsing behaviour on our Websites and Mobile App and information about when you click on one of our adverts (including those shown on other organisations’ websites)
Information about any devices you have used to access our Services (including the make, model and operating system, IP address, browser type and mobile device identifiers)
What type of data might be collected:
Identity data
Contact data
Financial data
Transaction data
Technical data
User data
Interaction data
Marketing and communications data

Android Tesco Clubcard app has access to:
modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
read the contents of your USB storage
Device & app history
retrieve running apps
Device ID & call information
read phone status and identity
Wi-Fi connection information
view Wi-Fi connections
Photos / Media / Files
modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
read the contents of your USB storage
read phone status and identity
take pictures and videos
precise location (GPS and network-based)
approximate location (network-based)
receive data from Internet
reorder running apps
read Google service configuration
prevent device from sleeping
run at startup
view network connections
full network access
modify system settings

Tesco data processing is done by Dunnhumby:
Jan 2022: Dunnhumby, the world’s leading retail data science organization, has today launched dunnhumby Sphere, an all-in-one customer first retail media platform.

Customer data science experts dunnhumby launch clear, simple, data-led platform for retail media
Automated workflows, AI-driven audiences and customer-centric measurement allows for greater collaboration between retailers, brands and agencies, creating a better customer experience

dunnhumby Sphere is the end-to-end retail media platform that takes users from brand insights to campaign billing through its fully integrated set of modules, helping to unify audience targeting, media booking, forecasting and measurement across a range of retail media channels.
As the world leaders in customer data science, dunnhumby Sphere gives access to simple but powerful AI powered audiences to predict the customer likelihood to buy any given product, resulting in up to twice the return on ad spend (ROAS) when compared to standard descriptive segmentation models.

dunnhumby Sphere helps retailers and brands save time by making complex workflows easier to manage across all media channels. Bringing together multiple sets of data, Sphere provides retailers and their advertising partners with a single view of all audience activations, providing easy access to AI-powered audiences to help brands find the shoppers they need to target in order to hit their marketing goals and deliver high return on ad spend.

And are you saying that this is any different to how other retailers operate?
We don’t use the Tesco app, so it isn’t necessary to get the clubcard prices. We’ve had the clubcards since Noah was a boy and nothing bad has ever happened.

Kevin says:
1 March 2022

Other retailers are not YET mandating that headline shelf price promotions require surrendering to the Tesco data policies outlined above.

As for nothing bad ever happening, Which? from 20 Jan 2020:
“The news comes just days after Tesco said it would issue replacement Clubcards to more than 620,000 customers after a similar security breach”

Even Tesco aren’t sure whether your data is ‘theirs’ or Dunnhumby’s, the scope of their policy allows them plenty of wriggle room in monetising your data, and even if they are scrupulous in handling your data, they can be hacked and your data stolen.

As for anonymising data, self evidently it is NOT anonymised in Tesco’s systems, and even many IT professionals are ignorant of the requirements to truly anonymise data so it cannot be reconstructed, especially from the many other ‘anonymised’ personal data sets that other companies sell.

It’s the coercive element of Tesco policy I particularly dislike, but the trade in personal data needs better regulation in general.

This is about much more than privacy, as Tesco is now artificially inflating ticket prices in order to promote ‘Clubcard prices’ that are actually market prices. For example: the 4 for £6 beer deal that has been ongoing for several years is now a ‘Clubcard’ deal: own brand tinned tomatoes up from 40p to 45p but Clubcard deal back to 4 for £1.60; prawns up from £3 to £3.75 but back to £3 with a Clubcard. Thus people without a Clubcard, who forget to bring it or forget to scan are charged over the odds: and in many cases, especially a quick trip to top-up shop at a Local store, may not even be aware of it. The self-serve tills prompt to scan a Clubcard, but the cashiers don’t, and many people won’t realise that Clubcard is no longer about loyalty points, it’s now a requirement to avail of competitive prices. As ever, the financially illiterate will bear the brunt of this: and Tesco will benefit from higher margins when selling to those who, whether because of privacy concerns or simply ignorance of Tesco’s new pricing policy, don’t have or don’t proffer a Clubcard.

In case you hadn’t noticed prices are going up all round and could well rise further as a result of Putin’s actions and the global response. As Tesco is local to us we may as well take advantage of the lowest possible prices on the items we buy; why not?
The cashiers in our Tesco always ask us if we’ve used our clubcard.

”When you click on a link, we may earn commission from any subsequent purchases. In order to do this, we track your activity using cookies”. Which company does this?

Susan Osbrink says:
4 March 2022

I felt that this article was an unjustified attack on a loyalty scheme which saves me several pounds a month. Surely all loyalty schemes exist to promote the business by offering customers cheaper deals on their regular buys. Tesco Clubcard is better than other loyalty schemes – it gives money back in vouchers (which I save up for a year and spend at Christmas) but also gives lower prices on in-store products. The scheme certainly doesn’t force anyone to “sign up immediately or be punished”. What an exaggeration! Customers who are not in the scheme simply pay the normal price. This is Fay Lipson’s personal opinion and a very biased one at that.

Em says:
4 March 2022

The higher Tesco prices used to promote the additional Clubcard discount savings are not normal in my experience. For most other loyalty schemes, the savings are marginal and don’t punish shoppers to quite the same degree, if they are not prepared to sign up for whatever reason, which might include some form of learning or other disability.

Anne Williamson says:
15 March 2022

Hear, hear. I really don’t care if Tesco knows what I eat and drink and I take advantage of lower Clubcard prices only if they are products I usually buy. How is any of this “coercive”? If you are worried about Tesco’s data security don’t shop there, but I think these concerns are rather overdone..

David says:
10 March 2022

Thank God I’m not the only one who feels coerced into applying for a Clubcard in order to take advantage of lower prices in store. I live on the Isle of Man and while we have a local supermarket chain with some access to the Sainsbury range, Tesco is the only other major
food retailer. No Aldi, no Lidl, no Morrison’s et al. I feel that I had little choice but to sign up and find no real clue as to how my shopping habits will be utilised (exploited?) by Tesco. Thanks Faye for giving voice to my frustration

One reason why I don’t use these mobile apps, I don’t trust them! As far as I know Tesco have my address, phone No. etc for deliveries and billing (credit card details) but looking at the list of ‘access’ rights above I now have deep concern over what they seem to believe they have a right to interfere with, including modifying and deleting my data!! – frightening!
Faye Lipson is absolutely right to raise this issue.
Perhaps Which could investigate this aspect and give some guidance on how to avoid this intrusion into our privacy.

Chris says:
12 March 2022

I am not loyal but have shopped at Tesco for years and have had a club card for years. I always compare prices on line before shopping then cycle to the shop for the cheaper product. My points, from various shops, have saved me a lot of money. It is something for nothing and again, I am not loyal. The new Tesco club card prices scheme has annoyed me immensely as I used to walk around the car park collecting receipts and claiming the points, taking hundreds of pounds off a holiday flight. I still walk around the the car park in hope. DARN you Tesco club card prices.

I am not a loyal customer but have all the ‘loyalty’ cards relevant to me. I have had a Tesco card for years but do not pay for any extra schemes. By regularly checking prices on line then cycling to the appropriate shop with the less expensive product I have saved hundreds of pounds. My favourite pass time was to walk around the car park, picking up receipts and claiming the points and hundreds of pounds off flights. Sadly the new club card prices scheme has put an end to this sad practise. DARN you Tesco club prices!
These club card prices are all over America. They may have my shopping habits but they do not have my mind.

Those whose major concern is “privacy” may be grateful to reflect that we now live in a world where self-scanning and online shopping controlled by myopic computers is fast becoming the norm. And there is so much data swilling around that the chances of it being associated by chance with a known individual are almost infinitesimal.

Gone are the days of furtively slipping into the local Boots to buy the euphemistic “chemist’s goods”, hoping that you don’t bump into a friend at the checkout, or worse still find that you are being served by your neighbour’s daughter. Plain brown parcels are now so ubiquitous that the delivery driver has no reason to suspect what might be lurking inside. Most likely nothing more exciting than some dog kibble.

Roll back the clocks even further and it was normal for the local grocer to record in minute detail every purchase made in a black leather-bound ledger. No Data Protection Act or GDPR to stop the delivery boy or gossiping assistant having a good nose around to see what was going on at the Manor House, or how many bottles of port the vicar had consumed that week.

Alex Hardisty says:
25 March 2022

And how long before it becomes personalised pricing, according to retailer’s perception/estimate of your ability to pay? Who will pay the highest prices – the rich or the poor?

Retailers like Tesco need to become much more transparent about how the computer methods they use decide what price a person pays. Assessing risk for insurance premiums is one acceptable use of machine algorithms but assessing ability to pay at a retailer is completely unethical. A supermarket price should be the same for everyone.

And how long before it becomes personalised pricing, according to retailer’s perception/estimate of your ability to pay? Who will pay the highest prices – the rich or the poor?

Retailers like Tesco need to become much more transparent about how the computer methods they use decide what price a person pays. Assessing risk for insurance premiums is one acceptable use of machine algorithms but assessing ability to pay at a retailer is completely unethical. A supermarket price should be the same for everyone.

Richard Chilton says:
5 April 2022

I was amused about the comments about privacy regarding the Tesco Clubcard. My wife has a Tesco Clubcard and got at least a couple of little plastic cards with a barcode on it. I use one of these when I shop in Tesco to get any discounts and accumulate points for her.

If I paid in cash, Tesco couldn’t know anything about me or indeed about anyone else using that Clubcard. When I pay by debit or credit card, it will know the number of the card I use and might be able to find my name by that. I can’t see how it can know anything much else about me.

So, if you don’t have a Tesco Clubcard yourself, borrow somebody else’s when you go to or are in Tesco. You will get money off your purchases and they will get more points on their card. Both of you are quids in. That must make a right mess of any analysis Tesco are doing concerning “your” purchases.