Demystifying Retail Loyalty Programs

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woman with shopping bags

During a lunch walk on Powell Street in Union Square, I saw a sign for H&M advertising their new loyalty program. It seems like more and more retailers are creating their own loyalty programs.  The Ann Taylor family of brands entered the field a few years ago. But loyalty programs are nothing new. Retailers like Safeway, DSW, Carter’s, Express, and Sephora have had them forever.  So have airlines and hotel chains. What’s in it for you? Discounts and perks. Depending on the retailer, those discounts and perks can add up to real savings.  Here are my top three tips on demystifying loyalty programs.

The premise for most loyalty programs is the same.

After having worked in retail during college, I know it can be a thankless job, so I always try to be polite when the cashier asks if I would like to join their “rewards”/loyalty program. Provided the loyalty program is not attached to a store credit card, the average loyalty program is free to join online or in store. The premise for most loyalty programs is that a person earns points for every dollar they spend. Earned points can then be used as credit against future purchases. The more a person spends the more points and status they earn within that program.

Read the fine print.

With any loyalty program, it’s always important to read the fine print about the perks and restrictions of those points you just earned.  After that college student cashier has convinced me to join a store’s loyalty program, I go home read about the program I just joined on the retailer’s website or app. I want to know what my points can get me and if/when they might expire. For example, at DSW, an earned dollar credit expires within six months of earning it. Another thing to keep in mind is that discounts don’t apply to all retailer stores. Those little asterisks at the end of promotions are there for a reason.

How to pick the best loyalty program: It’s easier than you think.

Overwhelmed? Picking the best loyalty program for you is easy when you think about where you shop the most.  Join the loyalty program(s) where you shop the most and take advantage of online coupons and discounts. For me, that means Safeway, Express, Ann Taylor, Carter’s, GAP, and DSW. I have also joined a few others, like Michael’s and Ulta, to take advantage of online coupons that are only available to members. Pro-tip: to maximize my membership and increase my savings, I combine coupons with special promotions (like the recent Memorial Day sale) and earned shopping credits.

Loyalty programs can be overwhelming and a bit confusing, but they can be your bestie at your favorite retailer. If your favorite retailer does not offer a loyalty program, like Target or Walmart, take advantage of the store’s online app and any coupons.  I am always hunting for discounts and coupons at retailers I frequent, and you can too. Think about the places you shop and give their loyalty program a try (and save a few dollars).

 

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Jeanne
Jeanne is a married, full-time working mom with an MBA in Marketing from Golden Gate University and BA in Communications from San Francisco State University. She is an Associate Director of Sales for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and loves that her career enables her to promote the city she loves. Jeanne and her husband Daniel live in San Francisco with their two daughters, Ilse and Alice. When Jeanne is not working, writing, or volunteering at Ilse's school, she enjoys traveling, spending time with family, and cooking from her collection of cookbooks (70 and growing) while sipping Hudson Bay Bourbon. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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