It seems like every time I walk up to a cashier now-a-days I get asked if I am a member of their loyalty or rewards program. Sometimes I get annoyed because I just want to get in and out of a store without having to hear the sales spiel about how great their rewards program is. Can’t I buy a package of Skittles at the drug store without having to hear about how many points I could earn? I mean seriously.
In a recent effort to increase loyalty and spending, companies are sweetening their rewards programs. And not just by a little bit. Some rewards programs are actually really great deals that can save me (and you) boat loads of cash. Suddenly I feel like I’m missing out if I don’t belong to one.
The Lazy Secret
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Why now? It seems a new shopping trend has developed over the last several years that has stores scrambling to beat it. “Showrooming” is when you browse in store and then buy elsewhere (or online). In store sales are falling. To keep shoppers loyal and buying on location, many stores are improving their rewards programs.
One of my favorite ”sweeteners” is the tiered membership some reward programs have started offering. Basically it means the more you buy, the more rewards/savings you earn. This one is great, if it’s offered by a store you shop at a lot. Starbucks has a great tiered membership rewards program. Each time you use your loyalty card there, you get a star. Based on how often you shop at Starbucks, you’ll either achieve green or gold member status. Green members get perks like free refills, free beverages with purchase, and free syrup or milk added to your beverage. Gold members get all that plus a free drink every 15 stars (purchases). Loyalty programs like these works so well because they reward the customer for shopping with them, which draws the customer in and frequently.
Don’t worry about keeping track of points or stars, loyalty programs are increasingly offering great alternative perks to entice customers. Retailers are really good at this one. Many offer free samples, previews to sales, meet and greets with celebrities, along with more traditional offerings like coupons and cash back. Sports Authority rewards its members with access to sporting event tickets and signed memorabilia. Coca-Cola offers members perks like subscriptions to Entertainment Weekly, health and beauty gift certificates, and universal remote controls for your television.
Another perk that would make me join a loyalty program is rewarding me for my social media usage. “Liking” stores Facebook page or following them on Twitter could net you more than a simple thank you. Some companies are rewarding their customers through social media. The Science Museum of Oklahoma offers reserved parking for its Facebook fans. More and more companies are using social media to promote deals. JetBlue launched their second Twitter account called Cheeps, that they use to promote cheaper flights.
Companies that offer useful smartphone apps in their rewards program get my vote. A lot of the time store’s app are just a portal to their website. That’s lame. I don’t need an app to access your website. Companies who offer benefits and reasons for me to use their app experience increased brand loyalty. Meijer’s (a grocery and retail chain in the mid-west) smart phone app allows you to track coupons while you shop. You’ve got to register ahead of time but once you do, your coupons will be applied at your purchase at the time of check-out. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
If you’re looking for the down side to loyalty programs, there isn’t much to report. Some will say that these phone apps, downloadable coupons and such are bad because it allows companies to track you better. True, stores are gathering data about our shopping habits every chance they get. Generally though, each store keeps that information private. With all the exposés and in your face journalism out there today, stores are wary of gaining a bad reputation. No one wants bad publicity, so they keep a tight rein on the data they collect. Most of the data they collect is used to actually help the store better serve the customer. It can get you coupons and discounts that actually benefit you and help keep stores stocked appropriately.
The only other down side to joining multiple loyalty programs is carrying around all those rewards cards. If your rewards cards take up too much real estate in your wallet, download a free program like Key Ring or CardStar. These programs let you import all your rewards cards to your cell phone for storage. You can scan the barcode on the card or input your information manually. Whenever you need to use your card, just pull up the appropriate card on your list and have the cashier scan it. It also saves you from having to fill out paperwork or give a nosey cashier your pertinent information to sign up for new rewards programs. Key Ring has software detection capabilities to use your current location to determine the retailers closest to you and allows you to join online.
Signing up for rewards programs like these used to scare me. I never really felt like I was getting much in return for giving a store my personal information like telephone number, address and such. Thankfully many retailers have wised up and rewards programs have become just as valuable to the consumer as they are to the company.
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Sometimes we all need to make a quick buck, even though we don’t have a lot of time.
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Keeping Money in Your Pocket,