Retailers buying loyalty through rewards programs

Retailers buying loyalty through rewards programs

Safeway grocery store shoppers can earn gas discounts. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Customer loyalty can be a financial boon for businesses and a money saver for shoppers and clientele.

Information technology services and consulting company Accenture says about 90% of companies have a loyalty program.

Businesses large and small, chains and independents buy into the need to provide incentives to customers to keep them coming back. It might be in the form of spending money on groceries and then getting discounts on gas, it could be getting a free smoothie after a certain number of purchases, or it could be a free spa treatment once you have spent a requisite number of nights at a hotel.

More people in the United States are joining loyalty programs, according to Forrester Research, which is based in Massachusetts and has an office in San Francisco. In 2022, 86% of adults in the U.S. belonged to at least one program. That number has increased to 89% this year.

“I think part of it is driven by inflation and I think people want to save money,” principal analyst Mary Pilecki said. “They are also demanding more and want more from loyalty programs.”

Some people will remember plastic cards that hooked onto key chains that were used at retailers and grocery stores to obtain a discount. Punch cards are another relic now hard to find.

Today, phone numbers and email address are ways businesses keep tabs on customers.

Some programs track what people are buying so deals are tailored to past purchases.

Loyalty programs continue to evolve — part driven by technology, part by consumer demand, part by a company’s bottom line. Some places, such as Dunkin, have gotten rid of their birthday programs for rewards members.

“Over the last five years or so we’ve seen customer loyalty programs change. They are not necessarily disappearing, but changing in big ways,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with, a company that curates deals online. “More are using a tiered model. Consumers may have to pay to be in a higher tier or they may have to spend more to be in a higher tier.”

Since the pandemic, Ramhold said there has been an increase in paid loyalty programs, “Retailers find that by rewarding customers it will keep people coming back for years and years.”

Pilecki at Forrester Research shared these stats:

  • 60% of consumers in the U.S. who belong to loyalty program say they do so for the special offers that aren’t available to others.
  • 54% say special treatment is important to them.
  • 49% state getting relevant personalized offers or promotions are the key reason to join.
  • 47% of people in the U.S. belong to a supermarket rewards program, 46% to a credit card one, 40% to a pharmacy/drugstore
  • 35% belong to hospitality plans like airlines and hotels.
  • 28% belong to gas station programs (up 3 percentage points from 2022).

Retail is probably the biggest user of loyalty programs and that’s because there are a lot of retailers,” Pilecki said.

Forrester Research published a report last year about the return on investment for companies with loyalty programs.

“What we found is you can get anywhere from 56% to 77% of your investment back in one year,” Pilecki said. “That is great because the investment in the technology is huge.”

She said multiple vendors offer various platforms for companies of all sizes to choose from, some more sophisticated than others, with most integrating into established point of sale software.

What it comes down to is loyalty programs are a way for companies to save and make money.

“It is less expensive to retain customers than get new ones,” Pilecki said. Rewarding them helps retain them.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Appliance hiccup necessitates visit to the laundromat

Appliance hiccup necessitates visit to the laundromat

It’s not cheap to use a laundromat. (Image: Kathryn Reeed)

A washing machine full of water when the spin cycle has finished is never a good thing.

I kept trying things, but my feeble attempts only put more water into the contraption. The spin cycle clearly was not working.

I reached out to people in Chico to see if anyone had a washing machine expert they liked. No, was the response. But a couple of my tennis guys said I might be able to fix it myself and one sent YouTube videos.

I had already looked at a couple videos. One had the machine outside, with the person saying this was the best option so water didn’t get all over the house. Our machine is oversized, so a bit unwieldy. Unlikely that I could move it on my own.

It takes a few quarters to dry a load of laundry. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Before I even tried to fix it I had to empty the washer. Mom and I did a bucket brigade of sorts to drain the machine, with the plants outside getting a dose of gray water.

I knew I needed to get under it to try to solve the problem. But I was super apprehensive about doing anything inside and knew getting outside was going to be problematic. Mom didn’t want me trying to move the thing.

Since it was the weekend and this wasn’t an emergency I was not going to pay inflated prices for a repair person to come out.

So, off I went to the laundromat with my wet clothes. Sheets and towels mostly, so heavy wet stuff.

It had been a while since I was in a laundromat. How do people afford them? It cost $6.50 to wash my load in an oversized machine. What I had would not fit in a regular machine. This seemed like an exorbitant amount of money. It didn’t include detergent or drying.

During the cycle I was able to get some work done, and help a very needy older gentleman who didn’t seem to know the first thing about washing. And later I learned didn’t understand how to operate a dryer.

I wonder what those who study human behavior would have to say about the people who use a laundromat. That could be interesting.

I’m just glad mine was a one time (knock on wood) visit.

The repair dude came out later in the week. He tilted the machine against the wall. Why hadn’t I thought of that? He didn’t get the gasket on correctly at first, causing some water to get on the floor. No biggie. I asked if what he did was something I could fix on my own if/when there is a next time. He said it can be tricky. Fingers crossed I won’t ever need to know if I’m capable or not.

The verdict? Gunk was in the drain spout. I was hoping repair dude was going to find my missing sock.

Thanksgiving Day walk helps those in need

Thanksgiving Day walk helps those in need

I’ll be running for food on Thanksgiving.

OK, I’ll be walking a 5K. I’m not sure how many of these walks I’ve done, but I have several shirts to commemorate the event.

And the food isn’t for me. The food is for those who have a hard time paying the grocery bill.

According to the event’s website, “The Run for Food started out in 2006 with just over 1,000 participants and now the event brings together 5,000 participants each year along with 75 businesses and 200 volunteers for a true community-wide event.”

The website also says this is Chico’s largest annual event. It’s also the largest fundraiser for the Jesus Center.

All proceeds from the walk (some actually run it) go to the Jesus Center, which was founded in 1981 to provide a hot meal to the homeless.

Today, the center does much more than help feed those in need. Primarily the center helps the unhoused.

There are a lot of people in Chico without what I would call traditional housing. It’s obvious when someone is living in their vehicle. Tents, while more prolific before the city rousted them, are still plentiful. Short-term housing has been built as a transition. Services are in place to help stabilize these people’s lives.

But it’s never enough. Too many people are living on the edge. Sure, mental health and addiction contribute to homelessness, but there are so many other factors.

The irony is not lost on me that I will have walked to raise money for those who don’t even have a place to call home, and then I’ll go to a family member’s home and presumably eat so much my stomach hurts.

Maybe next Thanksgiving I’ll do more than walk.

A new normal for Paradise 5 years after devastating fire

A new normal for Paradise 5 years after devastating fire

Paradise recognizes the animals lost in the 2018 Camp Fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s been five years since the Camp Fire ripped through Paradise, forever changing the lives of thousands of people and reshaping the landscape for generations to come.

PG&E was held criminally liable for the inferno started by its equipment, which led to the death of 85 people.

Nov. 8, 2018, will be a date forever etched in the memories of those who were there that day. Today, the resiliency of the people who call this town home is evident with the continued rebuilding of homes and businesses.

Mom and I last month went to Billie Park—her first time since the fire. It was a place she and dad would regularly take visitors; out to the point where a fabulous view of the canyon unfolded.

It’s changed. Everything in Paradise has changed.

Cleo Reed, who lost her home in the 2018 Camp Fire, at the point in Billie Park in October 2023. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Now the views are evident at the start of the short trail. Gone are the trees that once obscured the view. One of the benefits of fire is views that were once blocked are now visible. But it also means walking to the point isn’t that special anymore. There isn’t that dramatic “wow” at the end of the trail because the canyon is now a constant on the walk.

In the park is a granite marker dedicated to the animals—domestic and wild—who were killed or injured in the fire.

In part it says, “For the missing creatures and all those who perished; whose light and love will always be cherished. The smallest sparrow, the majestic black bear, and the dog by our chair. Rest now until we see each other again. In my heart I will hold you my dear pet, my best friend.”

At the base of the structure are rocks people have painted as a memorial to their animal who is no longer here.

It’s just one of the many reminders in town of the loss.

This anniversary is a time to remember what was, acknowledge how far the people and town have come, and realize healing could be a lifetime journey.

U.S. government offering another round of free Covid-19 tests

U.S. government offering another round of free Covid-19 tests

Free is almost always a good thing.

I recently received four more free Covid-19 tests in the mail thanks to the U.S. government.

In late September people could begin ordering more of these tests through this link.

I’ve taken several tests—before visiting friends, before returning home, after I’ve been in a crowded area, before medical appointments, when someone I know has been around people who’ve tested positive for the virus.

They are so easy to use, with results in a matter of minutes.

While there is an expiration date on the tests, the government has extended the time beyond what’s actually on the packaging. To find out if your tests are still valid, go online.

I know plenty of people don’t believe in vaccines, but what’s the harm in testing?


Panda loan expiring; National Zoo to return animals to China

Panda loan expiring; National Zoo to return animals to China

No pandas? Yep. Soon that is going to be the reality at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

I lived just outside of the nation’s capital in 1972 when two 18-month-old pandas (Ling-Ling, a female, and Hsing-Hsing, a male)  were first given to the U.S. by China.

Kae feeding an apple to a panda In China in 2011.

Anytime people would come visit us in Virginia the zoo was a must-see because of the pandas. They’ve been my favorite animal ever since then.

Several years ago I was back in Washington and the one thing I wanted to do before revisiting monuments-museums and seeing new ones was to go see the pandas.

When I was in China a decade-plus ago, I was even able to hold a young panda. Wow—what an experience.

So, to think the national zoo will be without these black and white animals saddens me.

The three pandas at the zoo are on loan, and will be returning to China in early December. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, both 25 , are heading back because of their age. Their 3-year-old son, Xiao Qi Ji, is wanted because he is close to breeding age.

The U.S. and China have a deal that any cub born to pandas on loan here must be sent to China by age 4, when they can start to breed.

Whether there will be future pandas from China at the National Zoo remains to be seen. It would be a shame if politics got in the way of panda exchanges.

Lake Tahoe’s beauty being captured by Instagram users

Lake Tahoe’s beauty being captured by Instagram users

Lake Tahoe tops the list for being the most picturesque landscape based on Instagram hashtags. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Lake Tahoe is the most picturesque landscape in the United States.

At least that is what Storyboards says. Storyboards is a company that transforms photos into 8 inch x 8 inch photo tiles.

The firm used Instagram data to analyze the number of hashtags for various landscapes in the U.S. to determine which are the most picturesque.

This comes on the heals of Family Destinations Guide earlier this year analyzing Instagram hashtag data to determine which California tourist locations are most popular. Lake Tahoe came in No. 4 in that tally.

In this latest ranking, Lake Tahoe had 2,986,225 Instagram hashtags.

Also making the list were:

  • Lake Michigan—2,788,904 hashtags
  • Clearwater Beach—1,298,877
  • Lake Superior—1,157,663
  • Lake Ontario—1,007,124
  • Waikiki Beach—969,640
  • Lake Norman—640,978
  • Lake Huron—560,434
  • Lake Powell—456,329
  • Mojave Desert—429,066.

It is easy to quibble with the conclusions of all those hashtags. Maybe the numbers really represent the areas suffering most from overtourism. You know, it’s all those people inundating an area who are using hashtags.

Maybe Tahoe’s numbers are inflated because it’s such a large region.

Statista claims in 2022, globally the largest segment of Instagram users (31 percent) were between 25 and 34 years of age; ages 18-24 was the next group. So, maybe age has something to do with the results.

Don’t get me wrong. Tahoe is one of the most picturesque places in the U.S. And unlike some locations, it’s picturesque year-round.

Still, I worry about how social media is impacting tourism, and leading to overtourism—not just in Tahoe, but in so many locations. With that said, I must admit to being on Instagram and using hashtags, thus a contributor to the problem.

Applauding California’s decision to ban book bans

Applauding California’s decision to ban book bans

California is banning book bans—at least in schools.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 25 signed AB1078, which bans book bans in schools, prohibits censorship of instructional materials, and strengthens state law requiring schools to provide all students access to textbooks that teach about California’s diverse communities.

I read about this on the same day I learned about a teacher in South Carolina who was apprehensive about returning to the classroom after last year being reprimanded for teaching about racism in an AP English Language and Composition class.

She had her class read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, which is about what it means to be Black in the United States. Students said it made them not like being white. Um, there are a lot of reasons to be uncomfortable with being white based on what people have done and continue to do.

Learning should get people out of their comfort zone.

The problem in South Carolina, though, is the law says teachers can’t make students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.” Oh, for god’s sake, how does crap like that even get into law?

The answer is simple. It’s about who we are electing to leadership positions. It starts with local elections—school boards, city council, board of supervisors and continues to the state legislature and finally Congress and the White House.

The California law also prohibits school boards from banning instructional materials or library books simply because they provide inclusive and diverse perspectives.

Gay children reading about heterosexuals doesn’t “groom” them to be heterosexual any more than hetero kids reading about two male penguins is “grooming” them to be gay.

“When we restrict access to books in school that properly reflect our nation’s history and unique voices, we eliminate the mirror in which young people see themselves reflected, and we eradicate the window in which young people can comprehend the unique experiences of others,” first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom said in a press release. “In short, book bans harm all children and youth, diminishing communal empathy and serving to further engender intolerance and division across society. We Californians believe all children must have the freedom to learn about the world around them and this new law is a critical step in protecting this right.”


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