Spies? No - it's retailers who are busy tracking your every move.

You can take away her smooth, glowing skin, her naivety and her carefree chuckle, but you can never completely remove the little girl from the woman.

That's what I realised when I found myself staring in delight at my daughter's collection of mini grocery items her grandmother collects for her from New World. One of my absolute joys as a young girl was collecting sets of things, or even just thinking about perfect sets of things; I remain enraptured by the mini box of fish fingers and the tiny bag of peas, even if the full-sized versions leave me cold.

But they won't make me switch supermarkets, because I believe loyalty schemes are a ruse, however they're dressed up. For example, my local Countdown offers the chance to collect multitudinous stamps that may be transformed into a free kitchen knife. But my desire to have one is not strong enough to make me try keeping a loony toddler under control for five more minutes as the checkout operator laboriously counts out five or six of the microscopic things.

These are the more creative loyalty schemes, but of course there are still the ubiquitous loyalty cards.


These days it's impossible to enter a bog-standard clothing retailer without being asked to take the umpteenth card on offer; one store assistant told me she now spends more time waiting for women to sort through their stacks of loyalty cards than on anything else.

The same woman was almost hyperventilating over all the great deals on the loyalty card she was hawking.

"If you spend just $30 more, you'll get 100 more points!" she chirruped, omitting to tell me the points a) run out in two weeks time; b) are for use with the next purchase; and c) can only be used after you go online and promise your firstborn son's DNA can be banked by the parent company for future reference.

I joke about the last bit, but only slightly.

Because we all know that loyalty cards are an exercise in the mass gathering of personal data, and that there's probably more stuff collected on the modern shopper than spies have ever mined from call logs.

It's bad enough that they know you bought a pair of Spanx underwear on Saturday the somethingth, at x o'clock.

Now they also know you are single, internet dating, dieting, and a cat owner. You can thus be matched with offers of spa services, fitness gear, self-help books and cat therapy, and everyone's laughing. Supposedly.

Recent research from Britain suggests that people are turning off loyalty cards, saying there are too many and they are annoying.

Data concerns don't feature, though. In fact, bargain hunters appear to be keener than ever to hand over personal information, suggesting to the researchers that loyalty schemes should be linked electronically to payment (i.e., I hand over my credit card, and a company database clocks that and any benefits accruing to me).

I would have thought this sets up even more opportunities for the abuse of personal data, but the idea is already being trialled and is probably not far away. There's also a push for more "synchronised loyalty schemes" across different brands, which will involve another level of data sharing. A net positive or not?

We don't know - but it will certainly make stamps, tiny groceries and even cardboard coffee cards look utterly old hat.