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You can’t use manufacturer’s coupons at Big Lots, though you can earn store coupons if you’re a member of the bargain-priced closeout chain’s frequent shopper program. But now, Big Lots is making some changes to its rewards program that may turn out to be good in the short term – but not quite so good in the long term.

Up until today, Big Lots’ “Buzz Club Rewards Program” was structured in a fairly straightforward way. If you made ten purchases of $20 or more within a year, you’d earn a 20% off coupon on your next purchase. And savvy shoppers knew how to work it – buy just enough to get over $20 ten times, then go nuts and spend hundreds on their next shopping trip in order to maximize the 20% discount.

Starting today, that’s changing. Exactly how it’s changing, though, Big Lots isn’t quite saying.

The store is, of course, promoting the changes as a big improvement to the program. And in some regards, it appears to be just that. A $20 minimum is no longer required – any purchase counts toward your next offer.

After that, though, it gets pretty vague. There will be “more offers, more often,” Big Lots promises, with no mention of how many purchases you’ll need to make in order to trigger an offer, or whether smaller purchases will carry the same weight as larger ones. The offers will also include “coupons and discounts tailored to how you shop at Big Lots.” In all, the program “will offer more frequent offers which will differ from the current 20% discount.”

The big question is how exactly the new offers will “differ” from the old 20% discount – differ as in, better than 20%? Or worse?

Big Lots is playing it close to the vest publicly, but it’s showing its hand to insiders. “We’ve found an opportunity to improve sales and improve transactions against our loyalty card base with this new program and do it at a lower cost, meaning the markdowns associated with it are not as rich as the prior program,” Big Lots Chief Financial Officer Tim Johnson told investors earlier this year, as the company started planning the changes.

So it appears that Big Lots may be using some sleight of hand in implementing its “improvements” – you’ll get offers more often, which may provide the illusion of better savings. But they’ll add up to be less lucrative than the flat 20% off you’d earn under the old program.

So why all the changes? Big Lots says it’s doing it for Jennifer. And who is Jennifer? If you’re a Big Lots shopper – “Jennifer” is you.

Sorry if your name isn’t actually Jennifer. But Big Lots is now referring to you that way anyway, so hope you don’t mind. Especially if you’re a guy.

In another example of the sometimes odd semantics that retailers use when discussing their customers, Big Lots has decided to name its most loyal customer “Jennifer”.

Jennifer “wants quality, tasteful, branded merchandise at great values,” new CEO David Campisi told investors recently. “We must look at the store and think across categories with Jennifer in mind,” he went on. “Food and consumables are not consistent for Jennifer… We must look at the store and think across categories with Jennifer in mind… I like what remodeling a market can do for Jennifer and for our brand.”

You get the point.

It’s almost as grating as former JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson’s habit of referring to his customers as “she” (“We learned she prefers a sale,” he once described his typical customer. “At times she loves a coupon.”)

Big Lots’ decision to put a name to the “she” is based on the very loyalty program it’s now revamping. It turns out Jennifer is the most popular name in the Buzz Club rewards program. And apparently Jennifer isn’t spending quite as much at Big Lots as the company would like. Hence today’s changes in the rewards program.

That’s not to say the new program is all bad. If you’re an infrequent Big Lots shopper, you may never have bothered to join the Buzz Club program at all, since you could only earn that 20% coupon if you shop there more than a dozen times a year. Now, while the discounts may be smaller, they’ll be more frequent – perhaps encouraging occasional Big Lots shoppers to visit more often.

And that, ultimately, is what a loyalty program is really all about, after all. You may or may not like it, but as long as Jennifer is happy – Big Lots is happy.


photo by: MikeKalasnik

3 Comments

  1. I have not received one reward yet. I asked the employees at Big Lots and they told me to login online to check my rewards. I checked online and states I have zero rewards. I have spent over $200. I really hate the new program. I loved to old one. It is a hoax now. Back to Walmart.

  2. I know in the past 3 months alone we’ve spent over $200 and I’ve not received one coupon or “discount”, and when I check my account only it doesn’t show I’ve made ANY qualifying purchases. So under the new program, it really does suck. It’s a waste of time to even bother registering and giving them your card. Thanks Big Lots for giving me a whole Lotta Nothing!

  3. I just received my first “reward.” It was a coupon with three price points and three increasing discounts. I can get $5 off of $20, $10 off $40, and $15 off $60. This seems worse than the previous program, as I was able to buy big ticket items at 20% off. Because the final price point is $60, a $100 item would only retrieve a 15% discount, (and so forth). I hope that this coupon isn’t the best that I’ll see in the coming months, as I really planned for and enjoyed those 20% coupons.

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