Sunday, January 31, 2010

Foreigners Don't Get the Point

I'm standing in line at a drugstore with other shoppers. The woman in front of me has just pulled out a business card file. Hurriedly she flips through at least a hundred or more cards searching for the right one. It's a common sight in Japan. Point cards.

In an effort to keep customers loyal, it seems that every business in Japan -- from the largest chain department store, to the smallest ma and pa variety store...everything -- has their own unique point card. Spend a hundred yen, get 1 point. Collect 5000 points, get a coupon for a few yen off your next purchase. Just make sure you use your points within a certain period of time, and for certain items only, etc. This is the way it goes. And Japanese people seem to be almost fanatical about the concept. The first question you are asked by the cashier is "Do you have a --- card today?" and "Would you like to make one?"

I realize the point card system is popular in the States as well, but the Japanese have truly mastered it. For myself personally, it seems more fuss than it is worth: managing all those point systems for such a meager return. It seems smarter to simply shop at a discount store from the beginning. I guess I just "don't get the point" as a foreigner.

However I do have a few point cards (okay, only one) for places I visit frequently. When making a recent purchase, I was quite excitedly about finally cashing my hard-earned points in to cover the cost. I hadn't frequented the store in a while, but now was finally the moment. When the cashier announced the price of my sale, I confidently flipped out my point card:

"Please use my points." I said proudly, expecting him to be amazed at my diligence.
He looked at the card oddly and then said, "I'm sorry. But this card is no longer used by our store."

My heart sank. All my carefully saved points took wings in an instant. I would have laughed had I not been so amazed. How could they do this to me after carrying that card around so long in my wallet, using it at every opportunity?

"We do have a new point-getter machine. Every shopper can use their store card to get up to 100 points any time they visit." the clerk said, trying console me in my obvious shock.

This was small comfort. But I followed him to the point-getter machine for a demonstration. He inserted my new store point card for me. We waited. How many comfort points would I be awarded? The answer came. As if sticking out its tongue at me, the machine spit the card back out. Printed on it was a big, fat zero.

I guess foreigners just don't get the point.

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