Screw you Borders

A few times every week we spend some hours relaxing at the coffee shop of our neighborhood Borders store. Part of the reason was the gratis rewards program that gave you a a personal shopping day (10% off) if you spent at least $50 in the previous month. At the end of the year they also gave you a percentage of your entire spending over the course of the year to spend as a holiday reward. In the meantime they benefited because they had us sitting in the cafe, buying magazines, books and drinks in an effort to get that shopping day each month.

Well recently they sent out notice that the rewards program is changing. Of course, it’s a free program, so you can’t really complain about changes, but between the fact that it’s now significantly more difficult to get any sort of reward from the program and that they attempted to make it sound like they were benefiting you in some way, has really earned my ire.

Look at it like this. Previously the program gave you a 10% off shopping day if you spent $50 in a month. If you tended to save the bulk of your purchases on one day you got actually a 10% benefit, though on other trips, maybe just for some coffee in the cafe you basically received nothing. On top of that 10% benefit at the end of the year you received a percentage back of all your purchase that I believe amounted to about 5%. So in a worst case scenario you wound up maybe around 10% off of all your purchases, depending upon how much you took advantage of the program.

Well, in the new program you get $5 off of every $150 you spend. The mathematics is challenging, but after setting a small computational cluster to work on the problem it turns out that’s just over 3% benefit that you now receive. No personal shopping days and no year end benefit. Just that 3.33% off. (Both programs include weekly coupons in the mail, hence I ignore that, presuming that they will be roughly equivalent under the new program, but if you use the actual coupons you can save more than just the base benefits rates.)

So what – a company isn’t required to continue a free program, right? I’m guessing they found that perhaps people took advantage of it too well and it was impacting their bottom line. (Ever hear of actuarials, guys?) The issue that I’m taking in particular with their decision and why I’m encouraging you to write them if you’re a Borders rewards customer is the disingenuous way that they presented the program change to their customers.

They didn’t use deliberately misleading wording, the primary message is that the program is now “simpler”. However calling it a “new program to celebrate” certainly is intended to give on the feeling that the new program is somehow better for the participant. Saying “[i]nstead of the $200 necessary to qualify for Holiday Savings Rewards, you only need to spend $150 to start getting Borders Bucks” might sound like an improvement to the plan, but is it not misleading to leave out the fact that the percentage of the savings is much less?

Of course of all the injustices in the world today, this is a pretty minor one. Still, companies deserve to have their hands slapped when they try spin a negative impact to their customers as somehow helping their customers. For better or for worse I came accustomed to spending some of my relaxation time in Borders stores as a result of this program (and certainly some of my disposable income) so this will have an impact on me and perhaps others in how our leisure time is spent.

So if you’re a rewards customer I encourage you to go ahead and write them to berate them for their disingenuous communications. They should at least have the courage to tell it like it is. Maybe instead of just trying to improve their bottom line they would have managed to keep a few more customers.

I won’t post their email address here, but their contact information for the rewards program is on this page: