Jon de Vos: If you cant like them …
April 30, 2009
Some years back, I got lured into signing up with an off-brand phone service that offered immense savings and best of all, reward points. Reward points, they said as they reeled me in, are available only to their best customers, which I found out later turned out to be anybody who didnt cancel. After a few months of cryptic and inexplicable bills, I determined that the savings were more than gobbled up by hidden fees that were described in print so small at the bottom of the contract as to be mistaken for a fly speck. The speck also mentioned that I would forfeit my house in the event I opted for early cancellation. So I paid monthly and contented myself with the thought of a pile of reward points growing like mold in some dark bank vault.One industrious day, about three years into the contract, I decided to cash in all my reward points, figuring I should be somewhere near the Aspen Penthouse Level. After following several hundred online steps, whereupon I gave away all my personal information, betrayed three friends and gave up five people I didnt even know, I was finally able to print out my Loyalty Rewards Certificate showing that I had accumulated enough points for a free one-size upgrade on the New Oreo Cookie Milk Shake at all participating Jack-In-The-Box restaurants, some restrictions may apply.The idea of rewarding loyal customers is probably as old as merchandising, but the concept was converted into a business back in 1896 when Sperry met Hutchinson and began selling S&H Green Stamps to grocers and gas stations who gave them to eager customers who licked the backs and pasted them into give away booklets, 60 stamps to the page and 20 pages to the book. Then they took the filled books into a neighborhood S&H Green Stamp Redemption Center and traded them for toaster ovens and hand-held mixers. The company didnt hit its stride until the economy got back on its feet after the Second World War but the Great Depression, followed by the war, created generations of savers and the idea of getting a small appliance, or a toy for the kids, for nothing but a little effort, was an incredible magnet. What customer wouldnt prefer a merchant who added value for nothing but your patronage?The ubiquitous stamps even found their way into a song aptly titled Green Stamps released by comedian Allan Sherman on his 1964 album, Allan in Wonderland, heres a clip from the lyrics:Thrill me with your Green Stamps.I love your little Green Stamps.I love the way they look.Oh how I love to pick them.I pick them up, and lick them.I lick them, then I stick themIn my brown Green Stamp book.Well, dont blame me. I didnt say it was a good song. That same year, 1964, Sperry & Hutchinson Company was the worlds largest purchaser of American consumer goods. But their fortunes fell from this peak. They were so successful that they saturated their own market. What was the advantage to the merchant if every merchant gave them out?Times change. The last Green Stamp was handed out at a Tennessee Piggly Wiggly on Valentines Day 2003. But maybe its not over. In 1999, the moribund company was purchased and reborn as S&H Green Points, same business model, value added with the simple swipe of a magnetic card. Probably not nearly so satisfying as pasting 1,200 stamps in a book.
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