The personal website of Chris Coyier

Loyalty Cards

Other than potential wallet bulge, I like loyalty cards. Subway used to have the “Sub Club” card where you buy eight subs and get the next one free. Back in the day at the one near my high school, they started out with a “stamps” system where you literally licked and applied little yellow stamps to the card. Then they moved to a punchcard, where the cutout was a unique shape of a double-horned unicorn1. Then I think they moved to an all-digital system.

Changes in a system like that aren’t random, they had problems. Stamps are clearly flawed. They could rub off a persons card in their wallet. An employee could steal a whole roll of stamps and sell them to their friends. The cutout system was better, but there is some possibility a person could find another double-horned unicorn cardpuncher and have free subs for life. Also employees could quadruple stamp their friends.

Clearly the digital system is best. People have cards, the computer calculates how many loyalty points they get, employee slides card during purchase and applies points to card. But of course it isn’t that simple. How do people get these cards? What happens if they lose it? Let’s clear all that up with instructions on the best way to handle a digital loyalty card system.

The Best Way

To get a card, the employee simply hands you one during checkout2. There is no form to fill out or other hoops to jump through. Each card has a unique number, and this purchases points are immediately associated with that card.

That card will be fully functional, as-is, forever.

So what about when the card is lost? That’s where registration comes in. On the back of the card there are instructions to register it. Simply text message the number on the front of the card to 1-800-REG-CARD. Done. Now that card is associated with the phone number that text came from. If you lose it, you can text “LOST” to 1-800-REG-CARD and it will text you back a unique code. Give that code to the cashier, she swipes a new card, and that becomes your replacement card instantly3.

To incentivize you doing this, you earn a few points for registering the card.

I’d suggest never using the phone number to do something obtrusive like text message people promotions. However I’m sure there is some interesting demographic data that can be gleaned from a huge amount of opt-in phone numbers tied to your unique number-based system.


Tim Sabat, Sara Cope, and I discussed this over beers. Credit where credit is due.


1 I believe a double-horned unicorn is actually just called a bicorn.

2 This is the only possible pain point. The employee may still need to ask “Are you a member of our loyalty program?” which is a turn-off. It will somehow need to be made clear the no-signup-necessary awesomeness of this system.

3 Information about how to get a replacement card will be 1) available at checkout 2) available online 3) known by employees and 4) possibly on the card itself. Even though you’ve lost it you might know someone else with one or remember the instructions since they are so easy.