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At a time when paper coupons are plentiful, and digital coupons are increasingly convenient, the very idea of collecting gold and silver coins to redeem for grocery discounts seems downright quaint. But that’s one of the things that many shoppers in New England liked about their hometown grocery store.

But alas, those gold and silver coins are no longer just quaint – they’re about to be history. And then, so too will be a unique promotion that helped a regional grocery chain stand out from all the rest.

Massachusetts-based Big Y has announced that it’s retiring its 20-year-old coin program, effective in January. Since 1998, shoppers have been able to earn gold and silver coins for buying promoted products, reaching certain spending tiers, playing a game on a checkout screen, or sometimes just because. Silver coins could be redeemed for discounts on certain promoted items, and gold coins were redeemable for deeper discounts or for various free items.

There even used to be red and blue coins until Big Y simplified the program a decade ago. The whole idea of the program was to help generate interest and excitement among shoppers, while making it easy for Big Y to switch up promotions without having to print new ads or coupons every time.

“While it was a great program for many years, we are evolving the program to better serve and reward our customers in a way we couldn’t with gold coins,” Big Y said in a statement. The retailer will instead focus on digital coupons and personalized offers available through its loyalty program. Shoppers will “be able to load these offers right on your card. No more carrying around gold coins!”

Big Y says its decision was made based on “customer feedback”. “We were getting complaints, increasing complaints, that customers didn’t bring their gold coins, keep track of their gold coins and didn’t like keeping track of the discounts,” Big Y spokesperson Claire D’Amour-Daley told Springfield, Massachusetts’ The Republican newspaper. But she also allowed that cashiers and managers were growing tired of awarding, collecting and keeping track of the coins, and it was increasingly difficult to explain the rewards systems to new customers, as Big Y opened new stores in new markets.

“We found we could be much more effective going digital,” D’Amour-Daley said. “Just like every retailer in the world.”

But is being “just like every retailer in the world” a good thing?

Sure, handling physical “coins” may have been a hassle, when everything else seems to be going digital these days. But the coins helped Big Y stand out. Due in large part to the coins, loyalty marketing expert Brian Woolf once praised Big Y as “The Differentiator”. “Big Y has avoided copying competitors’ programs,” he wrote back in 2011. “Big Y’s coin program has become an entrenched, differentiating alternative currency… no other retailer has ever successfully taken this approach to rewarding customers.” He concluded by declaring that Big Y had “the world’s most creative (and unique) loyalty program.”

But not anymore.

Despite the fact that the change was driven by “customer feedback”, many shoppers don’t seem to be pleased. “Noooo!!!! Say it isn’t so,” one commenter wrote on Big Y’s Facebook page. “They have dissed the gold coin in favor of online discounts. THIS IN NO WAY HELPS SENIORS,” another commenter wrote. “Corporate making more $ but the consumers get the shaft,” another concluded.

Still others saw the coin program as just another hoop to jump through, where only those with loyalty memberships who clip coupons and save coins get the best prices. “Would be great to just have the sales, no coupons or gimmicks!” one commenter wrote. “Thank goodness!” another wrote in response to the news. “Who wants to walk around with a bunch of coins?”

Big Y will stop distributing gold coins on January 3, and the last day to redeem them will be January 31. After that, they’ll be little more than collectors’ items. Then “The Differentiator” can focus on digital discounts instead.

Just like every other retailer in the world.

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