The Not So Smart Shopper

One of the first items I added to my wallet here in South Africa was a PicknPay’s Smart Shopper card. Soon followed by Woolworth, Dis-Chem, Clicks, and MySchool cards.

It’s no small feat to obtain some of these cards, so that owning them constitutes a victory in and of itself, letting you forget why you even have those cards in the first place.

Much like the Social Security Number in the United States, here in South Africa it is their ID number people are frequently asked to supply for various services they sign up for, and the forms capturing this information often only allow for a South African 13-digit ID number. Needless to say, your foreign passport number doesn’t fit the template.

As you can imagine, trying to convince the powers that be that you should be entitled to a discount card even though your passport number is only 9 digits long is a bit of a mission.

And once you’ve been able to sign up in spite of this hurdle, it might take anywhere from a month to never to actually receive your card in the mail.

Like I said, once you are the proud owner of any of these cards, you are so chuffed (yes, I’m definitely sounding South African by now!) to have them that you actually never bother to find out how it is that they work.

Because of course they don’t all work in a straightforward way like you might be used to.

When we still lived in North Carolina, one of my favorite grocery stores was Harris Teeter. In no small measure this was due to my Harris Teeter discount card. Which came – totally revolutionary at the time – as a key-chain for your car keys. I’m sure nowadays it’s available as an app on your phone. Every time you shopped, your card was swiped, and all the discounts for that purchase instantaneously appeared on your receipt.

Instant gratification, American style.

Here, not so much. Some cards work the same way, like the Woolworth’s one. They always ask you for it, and you usually get some kind of discount. Which is yet another reason why Woolworth’s is my favorite South African grocery store.

At PicknPay, where I don’t shop all that frequently, they always swipe my card as well. But there never seem to be any discounts. One recent morning, it occurred to me to ask the cashier what all that swiping actually does.

“Oh, you are getting smart shopper points,” she said. “You can use them on your purchases.”

“Well in that case, I’d like to use my points on this purchase,” I said.

“Oh no, I can’t do that. You’ll have to go OVER THERE to claim your points first.”

Over There was a battery of monitors near the entrance. You had to swipe your card there, select from a range of options on the touchscreen, and print out your smart shopper discount, much like a gift card, that could then be scanned at checkout.

If, in fact, the monitor in question was working.

The problem is, I only ever remember my smart shopper points when I pull out my card as I’m loading items onto the belt from my cart – excuse me, trolley – and by that time it’s too late for this purchase. Because who wants to give up their spot at the cashier to trek over to the smart shopper points redeeming station?

I confess I’ve only ever redeemed my points once. I’m a Not So Smart Shopper.

It just seems too much work to keep up with your discount cards. And the loyalty discounts in South Africa are often so laughably small, it’s not worth the bother.

I did bother, however, with my Clicks card the other day. Buying medicines there quite frequently, I thought it would be worth my while to redeem my points.

To do that, it turns out, you have to go online. Register your Clicks card there and then redeem your points.

If only it was that simple. In order to register your card, you need – you guessed it, right? – a South African ID number. But at least there was a helpful phone number posted nearby, and when I called – the perfect time to make these calls is when you are stuck in traffic – I was asked to email a copy of my passport together with my Clicks card number to a certain customer service email address. Which somehow I found time to do, and lo and behold, about three weeks later I received a reply that everything was now sorted out online. More out of curiosity than anything else, I logged on and was indeed able to print vouchers for each of the months I had accumulated points in the past year. It came out to a little over R100.

Clicks card points, redeemed

I was so excited – nothing like holding actual free money in your hands – and proceeded to the nearest Clicks pharmacy, ready to use this money before leaving South Africa. Except then I saw all this mouthwash and shampoo we could stock up on and ended up spending over R600 total. Not the best way to go and save money.Especially when your packers inform you a week later that they’re not taking mouthwash or shampoo, or any liquids for that matter.

I have no idea how the Dis-Chem card works, but I don’t have the energy to find out.

I do know that I haven’t been a Smart Shopper in terms of parking either, as I was recently informed by a friend. So, next up: Free Parking!

What’s your Smart Shopper experience here in South Africa?

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