A Little Love for Loyalty

I finally got my wallet to snap shut the other day. I haven't been able to do that for the last decade. I took out all the loyalty cards to count how many I've been suckered into signing up for. It was a whopping 15, which is why I could never close my wallet. Some of these cards are worth the space in my wallet and the small effort to whip out when I make a purchase, others are just taking up snap space. Retailers promise to give you discounts in exchange for some facts about you and the ability to track everything you buy at their store. But I know people who stay as far away from these cards as possible. I'm actually a fan of loyalty cards, which means I'll never have a wallet that fully closes. Here are some things I've heard people say about loyalty cards and why I think they're wrong:

"The store keeps track of what you buy." Yes, they do. But most stores claim to use the information only to generate coupons and other offers based on your purchases. Notice the coupons that spit out when you make a purchase at a grocery store chain. Many of them are for items you purchased but by different manufacturers. Yes, you're handed a wad of paper as you roll away from the cashier. So you throw it away. The good news is most stores will remove your name from this service if you ask.

"The stores sell your personal information and your purchasing habits to third parties." It depends on the card. If the store is owned by a company that owns other businesses, your information may be given to those other stores within the company. The trick is to make sure you tell the store that you don't want your information going to those other stores and you're not interested in any offers. Most stores will ask for your permission to do this by making you check or uncheck a box on the application form. Look closely for it.

"You can still get loyalty card savings without signing up for the card." Sorry, but no. If you decide to not sign up for that little Giant BonusCard, you will pay the regular prices. Stores want your information and in return they'll give you whatever they promise, whether it be discounts or coupons. Hey, loyalty alone does not get rewarded in the retail world.

"You only really save with loyalty cards if you go to that one store a lot." It really depends on the card. Some cards give you a discount every time you make a purchase, whether you shop there weekly or yearly. But if you're using say a punch card that rewards you after you spend a certain amount at a store, then the card may not be worth it if you only go there a few times a year.

"Forget loyalty cards, the real savings when buying groceries is in coupons." If I had to choose between using coupons or a loyalty card when making my grocery shopping run, I'd definitely go for the loyalty card. I don't care if the store keeps a log of what I bought, I can't seem to get excited for coupons. I've really tried hard, my coupon-using friends. Is it just me or does it seem like most coupons make you buy more than one of the item? And frankly the discounts that I get from some store cards are far bigger than the coupons I've clipped.

So after years of using loyalty cards and punch cards, I've figured out which ones are my favs. As you can probably tell, I'm a fan of Giant's card and I love DSW, which sends me a $10 off coupon every few months. And I'm part of the massive following that the CVS card has attracted. I don't like punch cards. Mainly because you have to spend so much to get a minimal discount. Punch cards are only worthwhile at stores that you frequent on a weekly basis.

So are you a fan of loyalty cards and punch cards? Which ones are the best and which ones are better to pass on? Which offer a better deal -- coupons or a loyalty card? Have you been able to get a loyalty card without giving up too much information? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  September 23, 2008; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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Comments

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I too was having trouble closing my wallet. And I just bought a new purse and wallet since they were both falling apart. So what I did was, I bought a small wallet for my cash, ID, insurance cards, and main credit/debit cards. Then I got a long skinny card holder for all the other loyalty cards and non major credit cards. I have one from Giant,Superfresh, PetSmart, Dicks, CVS, Borders, B&N, Children's Place, the Gap, Kohls, Plus my library card, my Costco card, my Blockbuster card, and a few hole-punch cards from my kids hairdresser, Clarks and other outlet stores!

Loyalty cards are kind of annoying since every store has their own card now, but you really do save money having it. Luckily Safeway lets you type in your phone number, so I have never carried that card and that's the one I use the most! With my new wallet system, I only have to search for the right loyalty card if I am at one of those stores. Otherwise, I just use my regular wallet to get out cash or a credit card. And it closes!

Posted by: LBH219 | September 23, 2008 9:08 AM

Giant, CVS, Safeway, PetSmart & probably many other retailers let you type in or give your phone #, so I no longer carry the actual card for most of the stores.

For those places where I don't necessarily want to give them my info or have them track my data, I've gotten cards w/o giving my information b/c the cashier has activated the card & handed me the form to take home & fill out & I've never bothered to fill it out/turn it back in. The card works just fine since it was activated, but they don't have my info. At some stores, if you tell the cashier that you don't have a card, they'll swipe a generic one for you.

Lastly, I don't choose between coupons and loyalty cards. Why should I? I prefer to use the coupons when the items are on sale with the card & double up on my savings.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2008 12:31 PM

Giant, CVS, Safeway, PetSmart & probably many other retailers let you type in or give your phone #, so I no longer carry the actual card for most of the stores.

For those places where I don't necessarily want to give them my info or have them track my data, I've gotten cards w/o giving my information b/c the cashier has activated the card & handed me the form to take home & fill out & I've never bothered to fill it out/turn it back in. The card works just fine since it was activated, but they don't have my info. At some stores, if you tell the cashier that you don't have a card, they'll swipe a generic one for you.

Lastly, I don't choose between coupons and loyalty cards. Why should I? I prefer to use the coupons when the items are on sale with the card & double up on my savings.

Posted by: julie | September 23, 2008 12:32 PM

What is it exactly that people are afraid of that loyalty cards are tracking? I really don't care if Giant knows what foods I like. I'd much prefer that the coupons that I receive bare some relevance to what I actually purchase. What's the problem?

Posted by: Paranoid | September 23, 2008 3:02 PM

I use Giant, Safeway, Harris Teeter, and CVS. I don't really care if the grocery knows how frquently I buy store brand bread and milk.

Posted by: Kat | September 24, 2008 10:26 AM

I, too, am a sucker for loyalty cards. I think I have a punchcard from probably 2003 for pantyhose (buy 10, get 1 free!) from Ann Taylor I will probably never fill up. I really should throw that out.

I like the ones you put on your keychain. Although I have one from GNC that expired in 2004 or 2005 . . . but I use my Harris Teeter, Giant, and CVS cards all the time.

I guess if you're worried about tracking, the punch cards are best, since there's no swiping or signing up involved.

Posted by: liz | September 24, 2008 11:14 AM

I have loyalty cards from Giant, Harris Teeter, CVS, Ulta, beautyfirst, and Borders. So far except for getting the sale price, I haven't gotten any huge benefits.

Posted by: Little Red | September 24, 2008 11:34 AM

I have exactly 3 loyalty cards - B&N, Wegman's and PetSmart. All can be activated at the cash register with my telephone number.

I find PetSmart's card to be essentially useless as they so rarely offer discounts. With Wegman's, it's not so much about the card holder savings as it is about receiving "Menu" and invitations to certain in-store events.

The B&N card is in a separate class because it actually costs $20/yr. I resisted paying for membership for years, and then was talked into purchasing the card when the cashier told me that my savings on the purchase I was making would exceed the cost of the card. Since then, I've renewed it every year, because I found that the $20 investment amounts to at least a $300 yearly savings for our household and, sometimes saves us as much as $500. There will always be room in my wallet for that kind of savings.

Posted by: Lynn | September 24, 2008 12:55 PM

i have many, many loyalty cards. but without a doubt i am addicted to CVS card. The savings i get are incredible (especially on toilet paper, paper towels, and laundry detergent). Safeway is also good, as is GNC and Borders.

Posted by: anonymous | September 24, 2008 1:43 PM

I think loyalty cards are pretty good. I can do better shopping at Shoppers Food Warehouse than at Giant or Safeway with the card, but Shoppers' is neither nearby nor on my usual beaten path, so I rarely get there.

Most of the coupons I see are for stuff I absolutely do not buy (or that I buy in bulk from BJ's). Very few coupons are of use to me. Loyalty card specials save me a lot. I usually buy whatever's on special; if we're picky about brands of certain products, I wait for that go to on special, and stock up the pantry or freezer. The best coupons come from the loyalty stuff -- e.g. free milk at Giant (though it takes us a while -- we only buy milk at Giant when we can't get to BJs that week where it's so much cheaper).

Posted by: Anonymous | September 25, 2008 12:23 AM

You can still get the saving without the loyalty card. Yes yes and yes. I am the living proof. How? The cashier at giant, cvs and other stores just sweep their personal card to accommodate me or they ask the next person in line if he or she be so kind as to let the cashier sweep their card to allow me who doesn't have one to benefit from the saving. IT HAS NEVER BEEN A PROBLEM FOR ME AND MY WALLET HAS ALWAYS BEEN SNAPPING. Think about loyalty of stores' attendants to clients. Its alive and well. So if you have never been offered such reverse loyalty, don't hesitated to ask. It usually not a problem for th people at the store floor level including local stores' managers.

Posted by: bbm | September 25, 2008 2:32 AM

CVS is my current favorite --you actually get free "bucks" after you accumulate a certain amount of spending which can be used on Anything. Plus using coupons on top of their discounts has given me big savings on vitamins and beauty products.

Posted by: Ame | September 25, 2008 10:41 AM

I have loyalty cards from Wegmans, Giant, Safeway, Harris Teeter, CVS, DSW, Hallmark Gold...honestly, I don't see much on-the-spot savings, many of them have cumulative programs. I'd have to agree that CVS and Giant offer the best savings.

Posted by: roya | September 25, 2008 11:44 AM

Loyalty card providers should be required to notify you when a product you bought is recalled - particuarly grocery products. That would be a fairer trade for the personal information they're collecting.

Posted by: swdc | September 25, 2008 12:45 PM

Lynn, my B&N card costs $25 per year, not $20. How can I get this discount??? :)

Posted by: To Lynn | September 25, 2008 12:59 PM

I use CVS, DSW, Shoe Carnival, Ukrops, Kroger, Giant, Safeway, Borders,Food Lion Dick's & Best Buy. In Richmond, several of the cards get discounts on gas based on grocery store purchases. I have an old wallet that I use for all the cards. Whenever I go shopping, I bring only those that I need, plus the ones on the keychain

Posted by: lc | September 25, 2008 4:17 PM

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