Last updated on August 13, 2015
Everyone is familiar with how loyalty card programs work — in exchange for using a company-branded debit, credit, or point-based card, you agree to surrender some basic personal information and your purchasing habits for benefits such as points, cash rewards, special offers, and free merchandise and services.
Most individuals are comfortable with the privacy trade-off, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid getting a new debit or credit card without having it bundled with alluring offers for free or discounted gas, food, merchandise, air miles, or other promotional offers.
TJX Canada (better known in Canada through their retail chains Winners, HomeSense, and Marshalls) recently released their own loyalty program with the TJX Canada Style+ card.
While store loyalty cards are nothing new and TJX Canada is somewhat late to the game, it is worthwhile to examine the privacy implications of using this card and decide whether the privacy trade-off is right for you.
The TJX Canada Style+ loyalty card program seems to be severely tilted in TJX’s favour, offering very little benefit for you as a consumer while providing TJX and their third party service providers with a host of quality information about you, your demographics, and your shopping habits.
Let’s examine the benefits and trade-offs of enrolling in this loyalty program to help decide if it’s right for you.
What The Consumer Gets
The TJX Canada Style+ loyalty program is a two-tiered program.
First, in exchange for obtaining and registering your new TJX Canada Style+ loyalty card (available at any Winners, HomeSense, or Marshalls location across Canada), you are entitled to receive:
- A 30 day return policy (instead of the usual 10 days)
- The chance to enter exclusive member-only contests
Further, by using your card to make purchases at least three times at any eligible Winners, HomeSense, or Marshalls store in Canada within a qualified period (Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec), you can qualify for “email benefits” which may include:
- Early shopping access to stores
- Advance tips on fresh arrivals
- Special Offers
A Lackluster Deal
Compared to most loyalty card programs that offer substantial discounts on merchandise or a 1-2% reimbursement in points or cash, the TJX Canada Style+ loyalty card is severely lacking.
The only concrete benefit extended to you as a consumer is the ability to extend your return period from 10 to 30 days, which is already still quite low compared to most other retailers in Canada.
The eligibility requirements to remain on the extended “email benefits” program are also strict.
In order to qualify for a benefit period, you must make three (3) purchases at eligible stores within the previous benefit period.
Failure to make three distinct purchases in a period will disqualify you from receiving benefits in the next benefit period. Expect to make at least twelve (12) qualifying purchases throughout a calendar year in order to qualify for these extended benefits.
What TJX Canada Gets
In exchange for a 30 day return period and the ability to receive somewhat vague benefits via email if you stay within strict eligibility requirements, TJX Canada retains the rights to use and share your personal information in a host of ways for itself and its third party service providers.
The clauses in the Privacy Notice that you agree to when registering for the card online are nothing new or out of the ordinary for any loyalty card program. Every loyalty card program will use your personal information and purchasing habits to better improve their services, merchandise offerings, and to share with third party service providers.
As a consumer, it is up to you to decide whether the privacy trade-off is worth the benefits you receive.
What Information is Collected by TJX Canada
By using your TJX Canada Style+ loyalty card to make purchases and returns at eligible stores, and by registering online, TJX Canada will collect:
- Your name, email address, postal code, date of birth, and phone number
- information regarding your purchases and other uses of the card
- optional demographic information
As stated earlier, this is loyalty programs operate. It is how an organization uses and shares your personal information that you need to be aware of.
How TJX Canada uses your Personal Information
The TJX Canada Style+ Privacy Notice does a thorough job explaining how your personal information will be used by TJX Canada.
The basics include using your information to administer the program, communicate with you regarding the benefits of using the program, and tracking your preferences and qualifying purchases.
However, your personal information will also be used to:
- notify you of “new or additional products, services, features, promotions or events and special offerings relating to the TJX Businesses that might be of interest to you”
- invite you to participate in customer research
- enable a financial institution to make offers to you regarding a rewards card or other credit related program (if TJX decides to partner with a financial institution with such a program)
- help TJX Canada “prevent fraud, unauthorized activity, claims and other liabilities”
Are these last four points a surprise? Most consumers don’t know that by signing up for these programs they also consent to being solicited for yet more information and more offers that most consumers would ordinarily consider a nuisance.
The last point likely enables TJX Canada to prevent the occurrence of return and purchase fraud under the banner of loss prevention.
A few years ago retailer giant Home Depot came under fire by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada for requiring a driver’s licence whenever a return was made.
TJX’s Winners locations (and possibly HomeSense and Marshalls) followed the same practice, and have since modified their returns policy so that instead of collecting and storing unique information from your driver’s licence or government-issued identification on their servers (located in Canada and the US), an electronic “substitute number” and your name and address are stored instead (this substitute number is likely an encrypted version of the same information — see Winners’ Privacy Notice for more information.)
Who TJX Canada Shares your Personal Information with
Your personal information is valuable. Under the “Disclosure of Personal Information” section in the TJX Canada Style+ Privacy Notice, TJX Canada agrees not to “disclose, trade, rent, sell, or otherwise transfer personal information without your consent, except as otherwise set out herein” (emphasis mine.)
These exceptions include transferring your personal information to any third party service provider that TJX Canada is affiliated with or whom it uses in conjunction with providing services. These third parties may include, for example, those used to host their website, serve their advertisements, send email, SMS text messages or other communications, and conduct customer research.
Your personal information may be maintained and processed by any of those affiliates or third party service providers, including those based in the US or other jurisdictions.
These are some of the privacy implications of using a loyalty card rewards program.
Do these clauses surprise you now? Does the tradeoff seem to be severely tilted in TJX’s favour? Are you willing to sell some of your purchasing habits and have your personal information transferred to a plethora of third party service providers for marketing purposes simply so you can have an extra 20 days to return your purchase?
Share your thoughts with the rest of the community below.