Can we ditch the plastic please?

Arrie Rautenbach. (Supplied)

Arrie Rautenbach. (Supplied)

Plastic cards are a stalwart feature of the loyalty programme package. Given advances in technology and the associated costs of the cards, however, isn’t it time we ditched them?

Mobile has changed the loyalty game — permanently. The good news is that loyalty programmes are fast catching up.

WiGroup marketing and commercial head Howard Moodycliffe says customers are starting to demand mobile apps rather than cards because of the benefits they offer. WiGroup builds mobile transaction platforms that connect retailers and brands to consumers’ mobile apps and wallets.

No waiting for points to be allocated, no constant confusion over what your points balance is, mobile offers a number of benefits over physical cards.

“It’s definitely happening,” says Moodycliffe. “Cards are gradually being phased out. There is some nervousness about just switching cards off completely because it is entrenched behavior, but it is happening.”

How long it will take before everything becomes electronic is anyone’s guess. As Moody cliffe notes,under- estimating South African’s feature phone users, who are in the lower living standard measures by and large, is a bad mistake.

They’re very savvy about transacting on their phones, and extending loyalty programmes over unstructured supplementary service data for use on a feature phone rather than as an app on a smartphone is very doable, if not quite as pretty.


Mobile offers both programme provider and consumer multiple benefits. There’s no cost to produce or distribute the cards. Points can be earned and spent instantly, wherever you are. There’s no need to remember to take whichever card you need when you go shopping as your phone is always to hand.

“Mobile is seen as less open to fraud too,” says Moodycliffe. “And it’s much easier to manage. The most important thing, though, is that it allows for instant gratification — some customers would rather earn smaller rewards immediately than save for a bigger reward and if you can reward them at the point of purchase, perfect.”

Mobile also enables companies to communicate quickly and easily 

with customers by sending messages to their phones, he adds,so,for example,you can let customers in a given geography know that stores in their area are having a one-day promotion on XYZ goods.

“It also opens up loyalty programmes to gifting,” he comments. “You can use points your- self or send them to someone else. Or you can purchase something — like a cup of coffee — send me the voucher and I can redeem it at my local.”

Some rewards programmes are forgoing cards altogether. Moodycliffe says WiGroup is working with several companies that are going straight to mobile.

“Absa Rewards prides itself on being a no-card reward programme,” comments Arrie Rautenbach, Absa head of retail banking.

“Customers undergo a simple online or contact centre registration process and thereafter they automatically earn cash rewards on all qualifying purchases made using their Absa debit, cheque or credit cards.

“Our digital solution for rewards members means redemption of cash rewards is instant. They can use cell-phone banking via Absa-mobi or internet banking to redeem reward balances into Absa investment products, Absa transactional accounts, charities, shopping mall vouchers and airtime vouchers.”

Pick n Pay has a Smart Shopper card and app. Checkers has a mobile coupon app. Col’cacchio has very successfully launched a mobi-only loyalty programme, signing up 7 000 customers in two weeks after launch. It’s merely a matter of time before it’s mobile only, across the board. 

This supplement has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian’s advertisers. Contents was sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team