Thousands of consumers in Northern Ireland should act now if they want to make the most of their Clubcard points, it was warned today.
The alert comes as the supermarket giant Tesco outlined plans to slash the exchange rate for its rewards cards from December.
The retailer — which uses the marketing slogan Every Little Helps — has said the changes will help improve its loyalty card offering. But furious customers have criticised the company for depriving them of perks at a time of severe economic crisis.
In a further blow to consumers, from November 1 they will only get one point for every £2 fuel spend, rather than two points.
Northern Ireland’s leading retail expert Donald McFetridge accused Tesco of abandoning its customers in their hour of need.
“This is a very negative move, particularly in light of the circumstances people now find themselves in,” the University of Ulster guru said.
“It represents a painful scourge for customers, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.”
At present, cardholders get rewards worth four times their value when trading in Clubcard points.
But from December 6, this rate will be cut back to three times, offering hard-pressed consumers less bang for their buck.
Regarded as one of the most generous reward schemes, the loyalty card currently gives shoppers two points for every pound spent in store. This “double points” offer started in August 2009, with Tesco claiming to have no plans to stop the promotion.
One angry Belfast woman said: “It’s awful to see one of the biggest companies in the UK punishing their customers, especially at Christmas when money is already tight — and that’s without taking into account the added pressures of the economic downturn this year.”
Drivers who use a Tesco credit card to pay for fuel will still be able to earn two points for every £2 spent, according to the supermarket, who said it has modified the rewards rate to make the scheme more appealing to future trading partners.
A spokeswoman for the company also said that any savings made as a result of the rule changes will be invested back into the scheme.
She added: “We’re very confident that even with these adjustments, the vast majority of customers are still better off than they were before we launched the double points.”
Tesco is the only supermarket chain to run its own loyalty scheme — Sainsbury's, for example, is part of the Nectar network.
Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com said anyone with a points stash should take advantage and “pounce” before the December deadline.