They’re about as familiar as death and taxes. I walk into a store, pick up my goods, head to the checkout … and the cashier asks me if I’m a “member.” If I have a card, they ask me for it. But if I don’t, no worries: they simply input my phone number, or they ask me to do it.
It’s called a rewards program, or a loyalty program. My local pharmacies have them. So does my local hardware store. And many of my local gas stations. And, in the last couple of years, my local large-inventory grocer. When I travel, I almost always encounter a new rewards opportunity: there are no Kroger stores in my area, but when I recently traveled to a place that had Kroger stores, I was offered a rewards card, along with a promise that there was probably some Kroger subsidiary in my area that I didn’t know about. (The cashier was right: when I returned home, I discovered that one of our local grocers — Aldi imitator Ruler Foods — is owned by Kroger.)
Many companies offer a rewards program through an individual rewards account. Others, like Amazon, Walmart, or Target, offer a credit or debit card with built-in perks when you use it at the respective store.
Aldi does none of this. No store-specific rewards program. No perks. And certainly no credit card: until 2016 Aldi US didn’t even take credit cards.
Why not? Why isn’t there an Aldi rewards program?
To answer that, it’s important to understand, 1) the purpose of rewards programs and 2) why those purposes don’t fit what Aldi is doing.
The Purpose of Rewards Programs
Rewards programs have a number of different motivations.
One of them is loyalty. Rewards programs are designed to entice shoppers to return to the store again and again, in order to use whatever benefit the program gives them. The loyalty could come from customers feeling like they get a good deal there, or feeling like they have to get their worth out of the reward.
Another motivation is profit. Rewards programs are designed to make money for the company through one of a few different ways.
Some rewards programs are paid. For years, companies like electronics retailer Best Buy used to sell rewards programs that entitled buyers to discounts. Video game retailer Gamestop still does. You could even argue that warehouse clubs, like Sam’s Club, Costco, and one-time infomercial king Direct Buy, use a system similar to a rewards program, selling memberships that operate a lot like a reward system — in this case, the reward being the right to shop there.
A lot of rewards programs nowadays are free. Most retailers who have rewards programs learned that customers didn’t like feeling like they were being coerced into a rewards program they later regretted purchasing. Anger and resentment are the last things you want from customers, no matter how tempting that upfront rewards program money might be. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of paid rewards programs — outside of the warehouse club memberships, where you mostly know what you’re getting into beforehand — have died off in recent years.
Why Aldi Doesn’t Do Rewards
Aldi, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t have a rewards program. (Trader Joe’s doesn’t, either.) There is no special Aldi card, no Aldi membership. To my knowledge, Aldi doesn’t run anything like that in any country in the world. Why not?
Aldi is already a cult. Aldi doesn’t need to promote loyalty, because it already has it. Shoppers who go to Aldi already feel like they’re in some special club just for knowing about Aldi’s secrets (like its weekly specials or the fact that you bring your own bags) and its cheap prices, amazing store brands, and mysterious quarter cart system. (Some journalists who cover Aldi talk the same way.) Trader Joe’s, with its unique products and incredibly friendly cashiers, has the same cult following.
Rewards would slow down the checkout process. Aldi is all about speed. The grocer is second only to robots in how fast it gets customers through the conveyor and past the register. Aldi doesn’t want anything to interrupt that speed when it can help it, which is why you can’t even call your local store. A rewards program would be a perfectly fine way to gum up Aldi’s well-oiled machine. Imagine customers trying to sign up for rewards programs, or asking about rewards balances, or trying to decide whether to redeem rewards, or getting confused because they thought they had one, or trying to remember their phone number for the rewards program … yeah, it just wouldn’t go well. Aldi likes to keep things simple, and no rewards program is simple.
It would add a layer of infrastructure, including customer service. Efficiency is another huge Aldi virtue. Aldi is all about maximizing its dollars, with a lean store staff and low inventory. A rewards program is a huge logistical headache that Aldi probably doesn’t want to deal with. You’d need a whole online system to handle and record the rewards, along with agents to help assist people when they got confused. (And, trust us, people would get confused.) Given how deliberate Aldi is about its online presence — Aldi doesn’t even do its own online shipping except in a couple of countries — I can’t imagine it would want to take on all the hassle of a program that only profits the company indirectly.
Will Aldi Ever Have a Rewards Program?
You can never say never with Aldi. If the company decides something is profitable, they’ll do it. But given that paid rewards programs are out of style and free ones only provide profit indirectly through luring people into the store — something Aldi doesn’t currently seem to have a problem with — I wouldn’t expect to see an Aldi rewards program any time soon.