Deliberate Simplification: How to Stop Carrying Rewards Cards and Store Them on Your Smartphone

I hate Rewards Programs.

Let’s just get that out of the way at the outset of this piece. While some programs are well done and simple, the vast majority are lop-sided in favor of the Retailer, whose sole purpose is NOT to provide value but rather to track consumer purchasing behavior and influence spending – to increase the lifetime value of a customer to the retailer’s bottom line.

Rarely is it an equitable exchange either, because let’s face it – who has the time to track all these points, cards and programs, read the fine print about what they can and can’t be used for and when, and actually redeem them?

True, the supermarkets have it pretty much figured out. It’s a simple formula: Charge artificially inflated food prices to consumers who are unwilling to allow the retailer to track their shopping patterns and normal prices to consumers who are willing to open their Privacy Kimonos.

So yes, supermarkets, food, airline miles – there is tangible value being exchanged here under the guise of privacy; but if each store makes you carry a plastic card or smaller one for your keyring, eventually things start to get a bit out of hand and it becomes cumbersome.

That’s where your smart phone can come in handy. I’m currently on the iPhone 4, but most Android phones also have high resolution cameras these days, so this will work equally well on other platforms.

I was at Walgreens this week and for the umpteenth time was asked for my “Rewards Card” at checkout so I could “earn points” toward a “gift certificate” that I could use to buy more crap at … yep, Walgreens.

Normally I store my rewards card numbers in Evernote and just read the number off to the cashier, but this time it didn’t work and I was tired of it so I took the time to find a better way.

I sat down at the pharmacy with a bag of smoked almonds, shoved a few in my mouth, took out my iPhone 4, took out the Rewards Card, took a photo of it and uploaded it to my Evernote account, adding “Walmart Rewards Card” as the title and a tag of “Rewards Cards” so I could easily retrieve it in the future.

Then I brought up the entry and showed the iPhone to the pharmacist and asked him to see if he could scan it from my iPhone. He did. It worked and on the way out I tossed my plastic rewards card in the trash bin.

One small victory for me in the war on clutter. :)

Yep, I am indeed aware that there are apps for smart phones that track and store rewards cards. I tried most of them. Very few worked and it was clear that most were specifically designed to present me with “Offers” and not to simply store my cards. Simple is good. Less is more.

If you click the Archives navigation above, you’ll see that I’ve often written about creative ways to use Evernote here. This is yet another.

If you’re on an iPhone 4, I recommend that you buy the app “CamScanner” for the iPhone, primarily because it has an OCR feature that indexes text in the photos that you shoot from the camera, as well as an anti-shake, stability feature, which makes for clearer photos.

Couple of rules of thumb:

1. Obviously wait until you’ve actually tested that your retailer has the technical equipment to scan a barcode from your smartphone and that it works before you toss the plastic away.

2. If you decide to store your rewards cards in your smartphone, if you have frequent flier cards you may want to store them in a safe or a place at home rather than tossing them. If you do toss them, you probably want to shred them first so nobody else can use your miles.

Other than that, storing Rewards Cards, club membership cards etc. on your smart phone is much more convenient than carrying a fistful of plastic.

If you found this tip useful, please feel free to Tweet the link or share it via Facebook or email!

Adam Boettiger

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About Adam Boettiger

Practicing digital minimalist living in Portland, Oregon. I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with email. I write as often as I can, enjoy reading and also love to scuba and skydive. Content on this site is opinion only and subject to this site's Terms & Conditions. Twitter: @minimalism and @adamboettiger

  • Scott Queen

    Hey Adam, Great post! I agree that most of the apps have a secondary agenda. I use Cardbank on the iPhone and am very happy with it as a solution.

  • Carim0903

    I think you meant Walgreens.

    “adding “Walmart Rewards Card” as the title and a tag of “Rewards Cards””