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By J.Swindell

Saving money with rewards card programs

Shopper loyalty programs are saving the average consumer a great deal of money, along with presenting many enticing perks. Supermarkets, general and specialized retailers, and travel and finance companies are just some of the places customers benefit from using rewards cards. While rewards card programs are designed to enhance the purchasing experience, merchants also benefit because these programs increase sales and track shopping data.

A rewards card may go by several names – club, discount or loyalty card – and getting one is usually easy. Sometimes if there is a special promotion, potential members may receive an incentive to sign up immediately. This may be in the form of coupons, points, purchase credits or a combination. Retailers sometimes have various types of customer loyalty programs but the use of rewards cards and electronic savings are two of the most popular.

Types of loyalty shopper programs

Reward cards are the size of a bank card, or smaller, and made with lightweight plastic or are laminated. Some have the customer name or member number with a bar code programmed to track all purchases. By completing a simple form that asks for basic information like name and contact information, the customer can begin to save or build points immediately. By using this card with every purchase, they can receive an immediate discount on specific items or use accumulated points that reduce the amount of the entire purchase.

For many years, banks have offered credit, and some debit cards, that offer cash back on purchases like gas. Qualifying for these is a little more detailed, as one should be in good financial standing with a minimum daily average in a bank account. However, some institutions have agreements with travel, hospitality and other luxury companies to offer special deals during certain times of the year. Regardless of how often incentives are used, bank fees still apply, unless noted otherwise.

In the past decade or so, a number of online promotional companies have offered instant discounts on various items like books, clothing, hotels and services. Some of these companies prefer to have a profile on each visitor that uses their site and sometimes this is required before discounts are displayed. However, like with most e-commerce merchants, some websites use spiders to track unregistered users and information is used to promote products based on previous search terms.

Additional shopper benefits

Certain retail chains and supermarkets will allow reward cardholders to combine their benefits with manufacturer coupons. This can double or even triple the savings. Before making a purchase, it's best to read coupon disclaimers in their entirety first.

Another benefit of using a loyalty shopper program is that the merchant may offer things like additional coupons, invitations to events not open to the public or to try new products not yet on the market. Those who refer others to join a loyalty program may be rewarded with a complimentary or discounted gift from the merchant. Sometimes, instead of crediting an account, certain cardholders may receive money after making a minimal number of purchases.

In essence, loyalty cards are an excellent way to save money on purchases. Because the concept is fairly new, some have a hard time making it a habit. However, since this strategy is a win for business and customer, it's hardly a passing fad.

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