Carte de fidelité

“La carte du magasin?” the cashier asks dully, mustering all the enthusiasm of someone required to ask the same question of every customer, day in and day out. But it must be asked. He — or more often she — cannot process my purchase without an answer: do I have a store loyalty card?

Oddly, this is the only question anyone in a French store ever asks. Not “How are you today?” or “Are you satisfied with your shopping experience?” or even, “Can I help you?” No, we are sadly limited in our exchanges as to whether or not I have a store card. Mostly I say no, even though I do have a collection of such cards. At home, in a drawer where I keep the massive wallet with all my papers. Mostly the drawer is where it stays.

These days I travel light with just a small change purse and a couple of cards. I know I should carry my ID or at least my drivers license, but I can’t be bothered. In 30 years of driving in France, I’ve only been stopped once and that was by les douaniers, the border control, because I had obviously (from the boxes in my back seat) been shopping in Switzerland and not stopped to declare anything. What can I say? Our closest Ikea is in Geneva. They let me go with a warning. I’m not sure they even asked to see my big, pink French drivers license.

Carton rose

There is something about the term ‘carte de fidelité’ or loyalty card I find oddly endearing. I’m not sure why. I have no loyalty to any store, nor any other sentiment other than gratitude that such places exist within a reasonable drive. Ours is a relationship of convenience. And there is little convenient about such cards.

First is the fact that you need a physical card. You can’t just say your name or give a number, with the exception of a few smaller shops, which means carrying around a lot of plastic. This is especially true if, like me, you are not the faithful type. I confess: I shop around. Fast and furious. Based on my mood, to-do list and whatever a particular store has to offer: a better fish counter, fresh produce or selection of beer or wine.

Then there’s the fact that most of the reward programs require you to go online, log in to your account, and interact with them in some way to get your bonus. Only one store near me offers a simple ‘cagnotte’ or jackpot system in which you cumulate a bonus amount every time you shop that you can apply to future purchases whenever you choose. They even gave me a mini-card that attaches to my key ring. It takes little effort and adds up to a few euros off here and there.

Smaller places like hair salons give you a paper card that they must stamp each time you go. After a dozen services, you get a freebie. Usually I forget the card and start a new one several times, then change to a new place before it’s full.

I wish that store owners would understand that it’s service, not a little bonus after hundreds of euros spent, that wins my loyalty. How about a suggestion book, where I can let you know what’s missing on your shelves? A friendly cashier who actually says hello? Or even tapes that partially open container shut so that what’s inside doesn’t spill everywhere?

Happy staff create happy customers, so give your employees a reason to smile and that will earn you all the loyalty you need.

Do you have any store cards?


  1. midihideaways · September 12, 2019

    I have very few – I used to go to Carrefour a lot because it was convenient, and their loyalty programme spat out a rebate voucher every so often. I’ve also got one from my local hairdresser, and that’s resulted in a few free haircuts, and then there is gamm vert, where they also give me money off every so often. But like you, I wouldn’t go to a store because of their loyalty program, but because they sell something I want at a price that I want to pay. I’m quite cynical about loyalty programs – they want to see what you buy in order to sell you something you don’t need!! Most of the big stores operate that way anyhow. And that’s where the on-line retailers have the advantage, because they track everything you buy AND everything you look at!! 🙂

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      It’s funny — when I shop online I actually expect them to track what I buy and exploit my data. In physical stores, this annoys me. I feel like my public persona is private somehow, while online gives me a certain anonymity. This is all illusion, of course. The line between public and privates grows very fuzzy in a world where, as you say, big data tracks everything! Guess there’s no escaping big brother these days…🙁

  2. francetaste · September 12, 2019

    Géant used to have a good system of points that would add up to real money, to be used against a catalog of items or, better, against your next grocery bill. I would save up points and get a gift certificate of the money and would donate it to the school loto. A much better prize than some solderie bricabrac. However, they changed the system and it’s less interesting.
    Several of the supermarkets now can scan your “card” from your phone. Other places will take your name and look you up. But in general, I’ve stopped using fidelity cards because I dislike having my purchases tracked and analyzed. I pay in cash, too.

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      Pay in cash? Wow! That’s a very Swiss thing, too. Personally, I can’t be bothered to worry about having enough cash on me. Your old system with the donation of your bonus sounds great. Come to think of it, more retaillers should offer that as an option (donating the value of your loyalty bonus to a charity of your choice.)

  3. weggieboy · September 12, 2019

    I like the ones that use a card reader to process your reduced prices, but the ones that have to be stamped ort punched each time you make a purchase are tedious for the reason you note: I end up starting several over time because I fail to carry it with me as often as not or forget I have it.

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      Any system that relies on my memory is doomed to fail! Interesting to note that you also have such cards; I’d assumed they were a very French thing.

      • weggieboy · September 13, 2019

        I thought the same thing about American retail outlets! LOL! There may be specific differences we missed. As far as I know, the American cards don’t have a specific name.

  4. Joanne Sisco · September 12, 2019

    The line ‘ours is a relationship of convenience’ immediately caught my attention. When I was working, my job required me to interact a great deal with our VP of Sales. One of his favourite expressions was that loyalty is a measure of no better alternative. The wisdom of those words have always stuck with me. I look down on some loyalty programs as simply ‘me too programs’ – weak offerings provided simply because others are doing it.

    In my opinion, a meagre loyalty program is not enough incentive to shop somewhere where the customer experience is terrible even if its location is convenient.

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      I agree and have boycotted places for years that are super convenient because of one bad customer experience. Loyalty is hard to build (although your boss was right about ‘no better alternative’) and easy to destroy. But I do find the retail options in Canada to be generally superior in terms of service.

  5. acflory · September 12, 2019

    My brick [small handbag about the size and shape of a brick] is full of cards, but I never use most of them. Some of the shops I visit regularly recognize me and just ask nicely for my phone number. Others ask if I want a loyalty card and I tell them point blank – if I like the shop I’ll be back, with or without the card. I sometimes think we’re drowning in silliness. :/

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      Your brick! Love this! 😂 A few shops will ask for a name, but then it often takes them awhile to figure out the right one (I go by my name but husband’s is usually the default on record)….while people are waiting. So I avoid. You’re right — it does feel like the theâtre of the absurd at times.

      • acflory · September 14, 2019

        Yup. And the worst part is that the ‘rewards’ are rarely worth the effort anyway.

  6. pedmar10 · September 12, 2019

    I have a couple but the same in Spain or USA !

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      I’m surprised they would be the same shops on both sides of the pond. And none in France?

      • pedmar10 · September 13, 2019

        Couple in France but the system is the same elsewhere I meant…..

      • MELewis · September 13, 2019

        Ah, right! I was surprised to learn this…

  7. phildange · September 12, 2019

    To create little smiles in this dull atmosphere I send some answers . The only store where I put my feet into once a week is the easiest mini supermarket close to me, which happens to be a “Super U”, from the “U” network . I hate stores, private business and shopping and of course I have no store cards of any sort . Each time, like you, the girl asks me “Vous avez la carte U ?” Sometimes I answer “No Ms, each time I tried to take the exam I failed” sometimes “Not yet, I’ve only gotten up to the “S” card level for now”, you know, little jokes like that . In few occasions the cash lady gets it and smiles, but most of the time at least the people around does and I feel less bad to be in this loathsome place .

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      What a card you are Phil (pun obviously intended!) 🤣
      Humour in such situations does the soul good. But probably half of the comatose shoppers and cashiers are too far gone to get the joke…

  8. Suzanne et Pierre · September 12, 2019

    I do have a lot of loyalty cards but only use the few that truly provide interesting rewards like the one at my grocery store that gives me cash back once I have spent so much on the specific products I buy most often. It is easy to use and I can get the reward when I pay my shopping. Very convenient. I do recognize that these loyalty cards are basically ways to gather more info about my buying habits. I have a bunch of loyalty cards that I don’t use anymore because they aren’t worth it or I don’t shop there enough to get any meaningful rewards. These cards are very popular in Canada and the US…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      That’s interesting, I had no idea that such cards were so common outside of France! The only one I remember being asked about in Toronto is ‘air miles’, which we don’t have. The cash back system would certainly attract shoppers here but I’m not aware of any equivalent.

  9. Becky Ross Michael · September 12, 2019

    I have one for a grocery (not even the one I go to most often!) and another for a pharmacy. This only works for me because they fit onto my key chain. Otherwise they would be lost and forgotten in my purse:) I like the places where you don’t need the actual card for discounts and can just give them your phone number.

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      The key chain option is great but the phone number solution sounds even better. Alas, they will probably not adopt such as system in France as the privacy laws are so restrictive; also I doubt anyone here would be happy sharing their phone number in public. 😏

      • Becky Ross Michael · September 13, 2019

        Good point, and it’s probably not a great idea. Sometimes you can key it in, but often they just ask you to say it aloud. A little more privacy would probably be a good thing.

  10. Ann Lamb · September 12, 2019

    I don’t bother to carry cards because all m stores just use my phone number. If I had a card it could be scanned. My wallet is fat enough with the cards I really might need: driver’s license, insurance etc. Interesting that French shopkeepers are offended if you don’t say “Bonjour”, but don’t greet the customers. Just the opposit of here.

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      Yeah, that is a bit of a contradiction. They always say ‘bonjour’ but it is just a formality. Of course, in smaller shops like the bakery where you go daily or frequently, you might get a ‘Ca va?’ but that’s about it. It’s one of the biggest differences I notice when going back to Canada. Suddenly people are asking you where you’re from, etc. It’s nice but can feel a little forward when you’re used to staying anonymous.

  11. 355101pkl · September 12, 2019

    i have a Pets at Home card and i have purchased hundreds of boxes of Felix for my cats over the years .and i usually give my phone number as i dont carry the card When i last went there and the cashier asked me and i said that i have never had any benefit from them .. i was expecting a fortune of cat credit vouchers but when she checked my phone number it was not in their records.
    Stores would be better of micro chipping their customers..I have a lot of things to hide but for those who don’t it would save many things in life, including carrying a store card

    • MELewis · September 13, 2019

      Ha, ha…we may not be far off from being micro-chipped. Have you seen the BBC series, Years and Years? The young girl had her life uploaded online and her eyes were like ‘Google Glasses’ with a built-in browser. It was just bizarre yet realistic enough to have completely freaked me out! How absurd to be asked for your phone number only to discover there was no loyalty account….insane.

  12. eyelean · September 13, 2019

    Ah yes I have feelings about these cards too! The paper ones are annoying though some stores are going digital and have cards you can put in your Apple wallet (Etam, Subway…). I leave them almost all at home except for my trusty Super U card which has saved us lots of money on their baby club discounts since my son was born (you have to shop on Wednesday but that has always been an option for me). Oddly enough a cashier told me about the baby club over a year after he was born when she saw I was buying diapers… so though they’re trained to ask the question they’re not necessarily trained in pertinent follow-up.

    To be honest though we do all our other shopping at Lidl which is just generally cheaper and faster and we love it… and there’s no card!

    My husband hates all loyalty cards and wishes all stores would go the everyday-low-prices route which is something Decathlon does. So their card is just for saving your purchases digitally under your account if you need to return something and didn’t keep the receipt.

    To wrap up this rambling comment… I think they are in general pretty lame and the exceptions are rare.

    • MELewis · September 15, 2019

      That’s funny, I shop at Super U a lot and find it overall to be among the best of the lot. But Lidl? People rave about this place so I tried it a couple of times. Our local shop is awful. They have sporadic supplies (I like some of their bread but you have to go in the morning to get it) and always long line ups. But whatever works — I agree that no option is all that great so you take whatever positive side you can find!

      • eyelean · September 22, 2019

        Lidl takes some getting used to, and I have heard that some run outrageously low on important supplies, but ours doesn’t. I enjoy the smaller selection and the “special” items (in face I’ve bought some of my favorite clothes there in the past couple years). Their diapers are great. It’s clearly cheaper too. The smaller size allows us to get in and out of the store WITH our toddler in about 45 minutes. We still enjoy doing our grocery shopping together so efficiency is essential.

        They also changed their market from the sort of ultra discount style a few years ago to a more specialty item tactic.

      • MELewis · September 23, 2019

        Sounds like a very different experience from our local Lidl. No room for clothes and very little in the way of specialties! Agree that smaller can be better, especially when shopping as a family!

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