As Canadians, we love our loyalty programs. Whether it be a shopping program, a credit card program, or a travel rewards program — you name it, we love it. However, studies show not all Canadians partake in loyalty programs. There are tens of thousands who don’t bother and the question is, why? Consumers leave money on the table by not participating. Whether it’s a cash back credit card, Air Miles, Cineplex/Scotiabank SCENE, Aeroplan, or even a McCafé sticker card, there are so many options to earn rewards that there is no excuse not to.

An argument people use not to participate is that reward programs raise prices, blur the line on privacy, and make it feel like Big Brother is watching you while not feeling rewarded at all. However, reward programs are entrenched in our society; they are part of the free market and they are the norm now. Prices are going to be increased all the time, whether or not merchants have a loyalty program or accept credit cards.

Prices will continue to fluctuate and, because free market competition reigns, companies that don’t have a loyalty program compete with companies that do, and that latter merchant has to match the non-loyalty program vendor’s pricing. A good example of the market at work is with gas stations. You can go to a gas station on one corner that offers nothing and they’re also selling gas for $1.10 per litre. You go across the street and there’s a Petro-Canada and they’re selling gas also for $1.10 per litre, but you can collect Petro-Points and More Rewards points at no extra cost. The question is why would you go to the gas station that doesn’t give you something back?

As to privacy and being watched by Big Brother, yes, many loyalty programs today are about data — big data. The more they know about your shopping habits, the more worthwhile that data is. The question becomes, “Is this really a bad thing?” Those heavy loyalty program users will tell you no. They like having the program know their habits as they’ll receive targeted offers that are actually usable. Instead of sending all members double points offers on one select brand of toothpaste, programs with the proper data will only send it to those who have bought it before. All the while, other members may get an offer on a different brand of toothpaste. For example, I frequently buy avocados, so I get bonus mile offers on a monthly basis for avocados. It’s convenient as it boosts my program balance to get to that next reward level. It’s all about making the loyalty program worthwhile for the member, which leads to us feeling rewarded.

By getting more targeted offers, you should be able to get to levels in your program where you can be rewarded. This is the loyalty program’s way of getting you more involved in the program and getting you to the point where you feel rewarded. Many people pass on programs as they don’t feel they’ll get anything at all out of the programs, but what these people are unaware of is that many programs have evolved to make it easier to redeem with lower-priced rewards and partial point redemptions, while industry newcomers look to make it even easier by not being tied into just a small subset of businesses. Canadian startup Drop Rewards is a great example of this. They reward you with points on credit card transactions across a variety of merchants in Canada. It doesn’t matter what credit card you have or what rewards that credit card offers. Drop Rewards rewards you on top of that and then you can use the points for discounts at their participating merchants. It is basically a new twist to the coalition reward space. Carrot Rewards, which first launched in British Columbia and is spreading across Canada, provides points or miles in a variety of programs for taking surveys. The beauty of their surveys is that they are there to educate you about living a healthier lifestyle. They are not probing you for more and more data. A win-win for the consumer!

With so many loyalty program options available to Canadians, we come back to the question, why aren’t you participating? It is easy to earn points, miles, dollars, you name it — and it’s easy to use them to get rewarded. If you saw a loonie on the sidewalk, you wouldn’t just walk past it, would you? The same goes for the loyalty programs. If you aren’t using them, you’re leaving that loonie on the sidewalk.