These days it seems like every store has a loyalty program—some come with a card, some use your phone number or email to access your account. But are these programs actually saving you any money?
What are Store Loyalty Cards and Programs?
There are some similarities between store loyalty programs, but not all of them are alike. Some only give you access to store sales, while others provide you with cash or store credits rewards when you spend a certain amount. Because of all of these differences, whether or not you will save money and how you are rewarded greatly depends on the store itself.
Some stores give you a nifty card to carry in your wallet, and after you get a few, you can no longer close that wallet or fit it in your pocket. Some stores offer plastic keychain fobs, which also overtake your key rings. If you’re lucky, your store will offer a program that lets you use an app, a phone number, or your email instead of plastic implements.
You can also store your loyalty cards in Apple Wallet (and just use your iPhone or Apple Watch in the store) or Google Pay (and use your Android phone). It’s a great way to free up some much-needed wallet space.
The Rewards You’ll Receive
The concept of all loyalty reward programs is to get you to shop at that particular store more often. Some loyalty cards give you sale prices only available with that card (this is common with some grocery stores and pharmacies). Other loyalty cards don’t offer instant rewards, but instead, keep points for how much you spend and then offer you a coupon once you’ve spent a certain amount of money.
Some loyalty programs earn you cash or credit—instead of coupons and discounts—that you can use for future purchases. These are the loyalty programs that save you the most money. Make sure you know the rules, though—your rewards may come with an expiration date.
How often you’re rewarded will also vary. Some programs let you use earned money as soon as your next purchase. Others reward you only after you’ve spent a certain amount or on a specific calendar rotation, like every few months.
A Breakdown of Some Loyalty Reward Programs
When you sign up for a loyalty card, make sure you read the pamphlet that comes with it, or visit the store’s website to look at the potential rewards and how to get them. This is the only way to know how much you’ll actually save.
Here are a some examples of store loyalty programs:
- Goodwill: The Goodwill rewards program gives you $5 for every 100 points earned. Points are earned for each dollar you spend, so $100 spent will get you $5 off your next shopping experience.
- Hot Topic: The Hot Topic Guest List loyalty program gives you $5 off for every $100 you spend. It also opens you up to extra coupons, emails about sales, and more. You also earn Hot Cash as a member, which allows you to save even more money.
- Kohl’s: The Kohl’s Yes2You rewards program also earns you one point for each dollar you spend. Collect 100 points and get $5 off your next purchase.
- Yes Rewards: You can use a Yes Rewards cards at multiple stores, making it an appealing option if that’s where you shop. Each time you buy certain things at D&W, VGs, Family Fare, or Glen’s, you earn points toward discounts. You can also load coupons from the website to your card, and they automatically come off your bill without scanning individual coupons.
- Walmart: This one’s a bit different. Walmart doesn’t have a traditional rewards card, but they do have something called the Walmart Savings Catcher. Download their mobile app (iOS or Android) and then use your phone to scan your receipt whenever you shop at Walmart. If it finds that something you bought was available cheaper at a competing store, you’ll earn the price difference in reward dollars you can spend at Walmart.
- CVS and Walgreens: Both of these large pharmacy chains offer similar rewards programs in the form of CVS Extra Care and Walgreens Balance Rewards. Both offer rewards for spending in the form of store credit (points at Walgreens and 2% of your purchases at CVS). Both also offer exclusive coupons and special sales to cardholders.
Those are just a few examples of rewards programs out there. Just about every store you can think of has one, so check into the places you shop and see whether their loyalty programs are worth it.
How Much Will You Actually Save?
Now that you’ve looked at the benefits of a few loyalty programs, you have an idea of what is offered. How much you really save depends a lot on how much you spend at each store, the types of things you buy, and the store program itself.
If a place offers a free loyalty program, there’s no reason not to sign up. However, if you rarely shop there, it might not be worth all of the space being taken up in your purse or wallet.
If there is a charge for the loyalty program, do some research and consider how often you shop there. For example, Barnes & Noble book stores offer a loyalty program which has an annual fee. The $25 you spend each year could be easily earned back if you buy a lot of new books.
Of course, you need to remember to take your card with you, for some stores. Find out ahead of time if each store where you shopping with a loyalty card lets you use a phone number or email address (or even an app) in place of a forgotten card—otherwise, you’ll have to make an extra trip in with your receipt once your card is recovered.