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Why Jamaicans Throw Away Money

By January 12, 2009No Comments

You could save a lot of money locally and overseas if you chose, says Alan Beckford, general manager of the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA).

Despite the stereotype of Jamaicans as a nation attuned to haggling in the marketplace, and getting a bargain, most of us are actually shy about asking for discounts in stores and other formal settings. Combine this with sizeable one-off transactions, and you end up with consumers foregoing quite substantial savings.

The JAA, a service organization for motorists, established a “Show Your Card and Save” discount programme in concert with more than 200 local merchants, who offer from five to 55 per cent off on goods and services, about two years ago. In addition, the SYC&S card is acceptable overseas, through the JAA’s reciprocal agreement with the American Automobile Association (AAA)

One assessment of the current programme showed that a disciplined JAA card carrier could save more than $10,000 each year, on services they normally access, by exploiting just a few of its basic benefits.

The products and services available at discounted prices run the gamut from car care items to meals at restaurants, clothing, spa treatments, hotel accommodation, vacation attractions, stationery, as well as specialist services such as eye care.

In recent years discount programmes have become worldwide magnets, wielded by marketers to influence sale of their primary products, and enthusiastically welcomed by merchants to increase in-store traffic.

National Commercial Bank (NCB) has recently introduced its Keycard Biz, specifically geared for business persons. That card offers a cash rebate on purchases of 0.5 per cent annually and travel rewards arrangement with Air Jamaica based on interest accrued and paid, the company website states.

Outside of its credit cards, which offer cash back rewards, Scotia Bank’s well established MAGNA MasterCard allows users to earn MAGNA Rewards Points with each purchase. The MAGNA Rewards plan, introduced locally in 2003, is a loyalty programme that forms alliances with merchants across the island to a rebate on all purchases in the form of a quarterly credit.

Despite the incentive to save, one consumer admits that she fails to carry her MAGNA card with her, although one year she actually received a cheque for $600.00, based on a few uses at the Moodie’s Pharmacy in New Kingston. And, she noted that the sales clerk in that pharmacy always enquired, “MAGNA card?”


With more than 25,000 members, the JAA has served road users since its inception in 1924, partnering with merchants to offer discounts to members. Despite this, members often fail to make full use of the benefits that are open to them.

“Most of us are timid when asking for discounts,” Mr. Beckford said. We usually notice the extrovert who boldly asks for and gets his bill discounted, but overlook the majority who do not.

There is frequently room for negotiation in the sales process, marketing experts indicate. But, vendors, who want to make a return on their investment, have no incentive to drop their prices unless you request it.

“It is just a matter of asking,” says Richard Causwell, managing director of Kingston based EML Windshield Centre. The windshield replacement company boss said many more customers could get discounts if they did that.

About 70 per cent of the EML business comes from insurance companies and garages and thus automatically gets discounted, Mr. Causwell said. Of the remaining 30 per cent of the rest of the traffic, only about one third seeks discounts.

Customers have an economic rationale to negotiate; however, they tend to weigh that against social risks involved. There is often a dread of being disrespected for seeking a discount, in a land where respect can be a life and death matter.

And, in some cases sales clerks are not aware of the discount programme agreed by the company, and are somewhat hesitant to seek the assistance of a manager or supervisor to confirm if the customer’s request for a discount can be accommodated.

Additionally, negotiation takes time. With the more frenzied pace of modern life, fewer persons are willing to spend the time to get a discount on a one-off transaction.

Many customers at the Nirvana Spa are entitled to discounts that they don’t use, says Jennifer Blair, co-manager of the Kingston business. “They just pay and don’t remember to use their discount cards.”

The same issue arises at EML as a broken windshield is not something which happens to the average driver very often, Mr. Causwell said. They often forget that they are entitled to a discount.

With the time they spend on the road, some taxi drivers break windshields every year, the managing director stated. As windscreens cost several thousand dollars, “they remember to ask.”

About 60 per cent of Nirvana customers get discounts, where it has been used to build customer loyalty, Miss Blair said. “The more they come is the more likely they are to ask for a discount.”

“In addition to local discounts, the Jamaica Automobile Association has a reciprocal discount agreement with the American Automobile Association (AAA), which provides access to merchant discounts in more than 35 countries around the world,” Mr. Beckford stated.

He said that the agreement provides JAA members with discounts in participating department stores, hotels and vacation attractions, globally.

“Details about participating merchants locally and overseas are available on our website at,” he explained.

And, if card holders do take the time to locate services that offer real discount benefits, in advance for making purchases, they would be in for some major surprises.

“Once members start to show their JAA card and save, their level of satisfaction increases,” Mr. Beckford further stated. “And, the probability of renewing their membership is almost guaranteed, as they begin to appreciate the value of their local and overseas discount benefits.”