CVS, Starbucks, Best Buy: The Best Consumer Loyalty Cards And How To Use Them

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If you’re like us, your wallet is bulging with customer loyalty cards for everything from CVS to buy-ten-get-one-free-coffee. The average American household belongs to 14 such programs but hasn’t used eight of them in over a year. Loyalty cards are great, but they sometimes come with hidden tricks and often require an intelligent game plan.

Here’s how to make sure you get the most from that precious wallet real estate:

1. Make Sure The Member Price Is Actually A Good Deal

One team of TV journalists compared special discount card prices at some Philadelphia supermarkets to regular prices at supermarkets that didn’t offer discount programs. They found that the shoppers with discount cards were actually paying more on average for a bag of groceries than their non-card-carrying counterparts. So, don’t let the promise of discounts put stars in your eyes until you make sure that the store you’ve chosen has competitive prices in the first place.

2. Pick Favorites

Loyalty cards give rewards based on how much you shop at a given location, so you’ll diminish that benefit by spreading out your expenditures. For instance, you’ll gain less by buying half your coffee at Starbucks and half at Seattle’s Best Coffee. If the programs are free, join both—just in case you veer from your normal routine—but pick one retail chain for each of your purchase types and plan to do most of your spending there.

3. Use Your Loyalty Cards—Don’t Let Them Use You

Retailers use loyalty programs to try to get you to buy more stuff than you would have purchased otherwise, but that power of discernment is in your own hands. Follow two simple rules:

a) Don’t buy anything you wouldn’t have bought without the discount card.
b) Make sure you are truly getting the best available price (discount or no discount).

4. Don’t Stretch Out Your Wallet

There are two alternatives for reducing the discount card clutter. CardStar offers a free smartphone app that displays the barcode of each of your cards, allowing you to scan the barcode image at the cash register without carrying around the actual cards. If you don’t have a smartphone, KeyRingThing.com will print a single card that consolidates up to six loyalty cards for $4.95.

Five Loyalty Programs We Like

 

  • http://twitter.com/amkade Allison Kade

    I really think Starbucks has one of the best loyalty programs out there…

  • ella

    i like grocery cards that give you deeper discounts on items, as well as take a certain amount of change off per gallon when you fill up at the grocery's stations. the more money you spend, the more you get off per gallon ($50 spent at grocery = 10 cents off per gallon). plus, you can just enter your phone number to get the discounts and not carry around a card.

  • Jquinn

    I operate a small business and I us Staples fathfully. Over the years I have used Quinn and Office Depot. Over the years I have learned that Staples is THE BESTand I receive better discounts – and free shipping – if my order is more than $50.00. They also send me discount cards that if I buy $75.00 in merchandise, they discount it by $25.00. Where can you find anything that good.

    • bobby blue

      Office Depot provides the exact same coupon that you describe, free shipping on orders over $50, and they give back $3 in rewards for each every ink cartridge you turn in, which is better than Staples…plus, 10% back on copying services. I only shop Office Depot, Staples has disapointed me several times!

  • hub bub

    I loyally despise all loyalty programs.

    • carolinewaxler

      Ha! I like them in theory but every time I see a loyalty card in my purse from a place that closed I get a little sad. (RIP Berrywild on 23rd street!)

  • Beckie

    Actually, most stores won't accept the images of your card from your phone, whether it's company policy or the inability of their scanners to read the barcode from the screen. Until mobile couponing and the like becomes for the norm than the exception, apps like the one you describe aren't worth much.

  • directyourmusic

    Borders' loyalty program is even better than that. Weekly 33%+ coupons on books and a whole website of discounts on other websites.

  • 123ace

    I'm Canadian…
    Shoppers is a more expensive store than its competitors but they have amazing loyalty program !

  • Epriest367

    I hate best buy the restock electronics, and resell them and then charge a restocking fee

  • Miacara5

    CVS has a great program — very frequently I get a $5 off a purchase of $25 coupon… they also have a green tag program where you get $1 back for every 4 times you make a purchase and don't take a bag. I save a lot of money there with my household necessities.