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March 1, 2016

Profit to come before loyalty

It was, I suppose, inevitable that UK credit card issuers would slash rewards perks in response to the EU interchange regulation.

By Verdict Staff

It was, I suppose, inevitable that UK credit card issuers would slash rewards perks in response to the EU interchange regulation.

Marks and Spencer is the latest: it has pared back the rewards it gives to cardholders who will now receive one point for every £5 ($6.95) spent outside of Marks & Spencer, as opposed to one point for every £2 of spend.

Tesco Bank halved the loyalty points on its credit card last September, blaming the EU interchange cap, following a similar move by Capital One.

Meantime, John Lewis continues to offer its Partnership credit with its rewards element as yet undiluted: it offers one point for every £1 spent at John Lewis, Waitrose and John Lewis Insurance, and one point for every £2 spent everywhere else. Customers receive a £5 voucher on achieving 500 points.

In the event that John Lewis does not take an axe to its programme, it is not difficult to envisage the card increasing in popularity.

Innovative card programme marketing innovations seem to be thin on the ground of late so hats off to MasterCard for the return of its Fare Free Monday’s promotion.

Admittedly it is limited in scope: you have to be in London, so that limits its geographical range; it is also only available to MasterCard cardholders using Apple Pay.

So for the relatively chosen few users that have both a MasterCard and Apple Pay, the promotion is limited but generous: three Mondays of free travel across London’s transport network.

Whether visitors to London or regular commuters, the promotion is worth up to £28.10 on each of the three promotional Mondays.Impressive, but limited: on a random quick straw poll of the CI editorial desk, a grand total of one hand went up when the question was asked: so how many people here will be able to benefit from this?

The latest stats from the UK Cards Association, released as CI goes to press suggests that contactless is growing healthily in the absence of any mass market promotional incentives.

Spending on contactless cards rose more than three-fold in 2015 to reach £7.75bn, more than double the preceding seven years combined. In 2014, £2.32bn was spent using contactless.

There were a total of 1.05 billion contactless purchases in 2015, up 228% on the previous year. Contactless spending was up 233% on 2014.

Despite such impressive growth, it is still early days. Major cities such as Manchester and Glasgow have still to get their act together to roll out TfL-style contactless systems; major retailers such as Sainsburys have been lamentably dilatory in rolling out contactless enabled POS.

The expected roll out of Android Pay in the UK in March will doubtless attract a great deal of attention and overexcited PR pitches, overestimating the significance of the launch. No doubt lessons will have been learned from Google Wallet. I seem to recall receiving some ludicrous sound bites from some of the great and the good in the analyst and consultancy community forecasting just how Google Wallet would transform customer behaviour.

Just because Google is involved does not necessarily guarantee an immediate success.

There were many who told the writer – over two years ago by the way – just how significant the launch of Zapp would be: with payments infrastructure experts VocaLink in charge, what could go wrong?

Zapp may yet be a huge success and Apple Pay and Android Pay may well transform customer behaviour: all I question is the timescale and speed at which people may reduce their reliance on the old fashioned plastic in their wallets.

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