LEEDS Co-op has begun to introduce electronic dividend cards for its members.
After three years of trials at the Sherburn and Farsley stores a programme of phasing-in the advanced smart card is about to begin.
It starts at Woodlesford this month, and will be followed by Beeston in October and Hollin Park in November ? with the society's other community convenience stores, travel, optical and funeral outlets joining over a planned period.
Unlike other supermarket loyalty cards, the Leeds Co-op dividend card will share profits among the owners ? the society members.
"It's only available to them," says the Chief Executive of Leeds Co-op, Alan Gill, "as the new card is the vehicle for sharing out profits among the owners of the business? and they are the owners."
After being swiped at the checkout to record purchase points, the card allows the ?divi' to be cashed-in, traded against goods purchased; to be passed to charity; or for points to be accumulated to be used later.
"No supermarket loyalty scheme gives anything approaching this range of profit-sharing choices," said Mr Gill. "We don't hand windfalls to fat cat city investors.
"This is part of what makes us unique. It's central to the co-operative way. And we want to return to those roots ? where shoppers are not just customers; they are members who collectively decide how the business is run.
"It's not that we want non-member customers to lose out ? we're hoping they will join and enjoy all the benefits of membership too."
A new member can open a share account with as little as £ 2 ? which gives them an equal voice in how the business is operated.
The founders of Leeds Co-op ? reputed to be the oldest trading retail co-op in the world ? introduced the dividend 157 years ago.
But, in post-war years, the dividend was replaced by an ordinary stamp-based customer incentive scheme similar to those operated by many other retailers.
Since then, up to seven million stamps have been collected each year and traded in against other purchases ? whether customers were members or not. But the stamp system will now be progressively phased out as the new card rolls out across the Leeds area.