The struggles with "rewards" programs

I heard back from the good folks at StaplesTweets who asked for details on the problems I've had with rebate programs, since I mentioned them as part of a tweet on my less-than-fun experiences:

"I'm amazed at how companies (@bestbuy, @officedepot, @staplestweets) make their "rewards" programs so convoluted & frustrating"

So, in brief (but not as brief as 140 characters that I'd be limited to on Twitter), here's my Staples experience in particular:

In March, I had two "Staples Rewards" certificates -- 20-some dollars that expired that month, and 30-some dollars that expired a month or two later. I made a $30-something purchase and paid by handing over my $20-something certificate to pay most of it, then handing over my $30-something certificate to pay for the few dollars on the balance.

When I got home, I took a close look at the receipt; instead of there being nearly $30 left on the certificate, it said that there were only $4 or $5 left. It's as if the first certificate didn't exist.

I got the kids to bed and rushed back to the store before their 9:00 closing so they could dig out my first certificate from their bag-of-certificates (which, of course, I had no evidence of having given them once I gave it to them).

Long story short, it turns out that Staples "rewards certificates" are actually "coupons" (according to the store manager) and you can only use one at a time. When I handed over the second one, it applied to the entire purchase and the first one (which expired earlier) was ignored (but not handed back to me).

So, the manager voided the entire purchase and re-rang it all, then took just the first certificate, and I paid the balance in cash.

I specifically asked, "Is the second certificate still good, or will the computer consider it to be 'used' now?" She said it would be fine, but if I had any questions she'd be sure to remember me and fix it if it didn't work the next time I used it.

Fortunately, I made sure to go back on the same day and time when I used it a week or two ago because -- you guessed it! -- it didn't work.

My wife had sent me to get some batteries that are supposed to be free (or super-cheap or something) "after rewards"... but now, not only do I not have any idea if I'm really going to get the rewards on something that I bought with a rewards certificate... but even if I'm supposed to, I don't know if I really will because I don't know what the manager did to the system to make sure that it actually worked that night.

And, from what I understand, it's going to be weeks before I know whether the sale "posted" to my account properly. What I do know at this point is that the purchase of a chair mat on a day I wasn't there has shown up just fine... which doesn't give me much confidence in the system.

So, here's the point. Eventually, it'll all work out fine (though it might take a few phone calls from my wife)... but I don't "feel good" about Staples, and isn't that the purpose of a "rewards" program? When my wife says, "Can you swing by Staples and pick this up for us?"... I don't feel excited.

I feel worried.

Isn't that a bad thing?

To be an equal-opportunity complainer, here's a response I sent last night to someone else about a the Best Buy rewards program:

With rebates, there's kinda the understanding of "If you jump through these hoops, we give you an insanely good price on something". But the "rewards" stuff is branded as "You're a loyal customer so if you buy things with us instead of our competitors, we'll treat you as 'special' and give you some money or coupons once in awhile."

So, let's take Best Buy as a hypothetical example... I bought a Wii and a cheap Insignia camcorder for Christmas. No points showed up, for weeks. When I re-entered the receipt number, it said it had already been entered. So I just went back in [to the Best Buy rewards site], found that I had a $5 certificate waiting with one month before it expires, but that $89 and change had been "forfeited" on 2/5. And when I checked my preferences, I found that "e-mail me coupons and things" had been unchecked, which I know I'd had checked before -- and which I'm sure is why I didn't get any sort of "birthday coupon" in January.

Thus, what's my feeling about Best Buy? Certainly not the warm, fuzzy, "I like shopping here" thing that they're going for. With rebates, I understand that it's a "game". But the "rewards" thing is supposed to make me happy and make me like them, isn't it?

Sometime soon I have to podcast about the opposite -- the AWESOME way the Burnsville Hope Depot handled their Saturday morning kids program (in contrast to the Apple Valley one).

Anyway, it's just frustrating -- not personally, but in that "No, squirrel! Don't run under that car that's speeding toward you!" sense.
And, rounding things out... I bought some stuff at Office Depot using a gift card that I'd received, and they were supposed to end up "free after rewards"... but the system says that rewards aren't given when purchases are paid with a "merchandise card". A "gift card" isn't supposed to be a "merchandise card"... but that's how it showed up on the Office Depot rewards site. But Ruth called and asked and they said that the free-after-rewards program was "totally separate" from their standard rewards program. Will my free stuff be free? Maybe. Of course, they said if it didn't come through, "all we'd have to do is call them"...

Somehow, I don't feel very "rewarded".


Norman Larson said…
If the recipients are literate, they will be dumbfounded by the fact that a person is capable of writing in a way that excludes misspellings, grammatical errors, typos, etc.

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