Ok, this post has been a long time in the making, I know I’ve mentioned it a few times in the past. When I worked in retail and we began our brand new smart loyalty program I begun to get an inside perspective to how newer loyalty programs work, and began making them work better for me. Loyalty Programs can be a lot like couponing in America – they can be time consuming to get the rewards – and you can totally get suckered in and taken advantage of by the store providing the loyalty program. I’m hoping this guide helps you get the most out of loyalty programs, and keep an eye out for what to avoid.
Most loyalty cards from big retailers (think Woolworths rewards and Flybuys particularly) collect data on what you purchase and try to tailor recommendations for you based on your purchases. Some people find this quite intrusive and not worth the value loyalty programs can give them, while others find it very helpful to be told what is on sale at their local store based on what they are more likely to want (I’m pretty sure childless people generally aren’t interested in purchasing baby food for example). They also track data such as how much for tend to spend over the week. Now this is a key part of the loyalty program – retail stores ALWAYS want to encourage you to spend more. So when you’ve been with a program for a little while they’ll begin offering awesome offers that are totally within reach, only to begin to gradually increase the spend amount over a period of time.
For example Flybuys does this really well. Every 12 weeks they send out coupons in the mail that alternate between a “Spend $X for Y points” and a “triple point voucher” on alternating weeks. If you usually spend $40 in a shop it might be “Spend $50 for 500 points” which in the next 12 week round (assuming you took advantage of all the coupons) will likely become “Spend $75 for 500 points”. They also often have email offers along similar tangents which can be used in conjunction with the mailed coupons such as “Spend $50 in one shop for 4 weeks for 10,000 points”.
The tracking of the points offers an interesting double edge. While the store can definitely use it to their advantage to get you to increase your spend – they also notice when you stop spending. This is a wonderful way you can get the program to work for you. While I try and take advantage of most offers thrown at me within reason, there are times I look at the offers and realise the balance of power is tipping. During those times I will totally stop using my loyalty card, or even begin using my husbands card over mine. This always helps reduce the required spend and makes the offers more attractive, with only minor exceptions (being away from a card too long seems to make the store give up on me as a ‘lost cause’ and begin offering really poor offers again)
Loyalty offers can be spread across multiple mediums. For example as previously mentioned Flybuys has email offers as well as mail offers. On top of that they also often have “triple point” coupons that print out on your receipt. Keep an eye out for multiple locations Loyalty Programs may try and communicate to you with, for example some may send text messages if you’ve provided a mobile phone number. Sometimes bonus point offers are even mentioned in catalogues when you purchase specific items or even when you spend a specific amount instore.
Some of the bigger loyalty programs offers points in multiple ways. For example Flybuys lets you accrue points through using their credit card, through insurance programs, through their Energy provider and their petrol station (amongst a lot more methods!). While not every method provided may be of interest to you, be familiar with what places offer points so if you are shopping there anyway you get the benefit.
If your loyalty program is offering you a time sensitive deal you want to take advantage of it may be worth tracking it on a calendar to ensure you don’t miss out. This is particularly useful when the offers are “spend $X over Y weeks” so you don’t get most of the way through completing an offer just to miss out at the 11th hour.
Having a loyalty card doesn’t mean you must remain totally loyal to the company. I’ve mentioned previously the benefit of having a pricebook app to keep on top of the price difference between competing stores and having a loyalty card shouldn’t negate shoping around for the best deal. For example I know one shop has much cheaper dried fruit than my main grocery chain – so I go to the competitor to buy those items. There are times when the difference is much smaller and I compromise – ie 5c difference per kilo, not necessarily a concern – $2 per kilo: you better believe I’m going elsewhere! Don’t let the loyalty programs blind you into being stupidly loyal towards a brand. The loyalty program should be seen as a benefit and only if it’s offering discount points that would make up the difference in price should it be considered. Even better if the competitor also has a loyalty card that you can accrue points towards as well 😉
Keep track of your points. This may sounds obvious but I know a lot of friends and family who have been collecting points for a long period of time but never collected them, only to discover they have a wealth of points/money accrued. Some loyalty programs are proactive about getting the points used, such as Woolworths Rewards which will automatically take the money off as soon as $10 in points in accrued. Meanwhile Flybuys generally just accrues silently unless you hold a financial service with them such as a credit card which allows you to turn on a function that will prompt you asking if you want to apply a $10 discount, otherwise you need to log into the website and specifically choose what to do with your points. Some loyalty programs will also have an expiry on rewards or points, be mindful of this and don’t let them go to waste if you can avoid it.
Try not to think of loyalty program points as completely free money. The loyalty program is always there to get you spend more and your vigilance of your budget and being willing to walk away are important processes you need to take for the ‘free’ money lest the retail store begin to tip the balance of power back towards them.
Install an app on your phone that keeps your loyalty card details. Sometimes you can forget to bring a card – or particularly if you are using paper coupons with barcodes it’s too easy to miss out on points because you forgot your card.
I hope this can be of some assistance to help you get more benefit from your loyalty programs by understanding how they work and what the retail store hopes for by offering a loyalty program. Doing as I have listed probably gives me approximately 1 month of free groceries at least per year – which I figure isn’t too bad considering my groceries generally only cost $300 for a family of 3. Don’t forget to check out my Cutting Costs: Project Groceries to get the greatest benefit on reducing your budget in combination with this Loyalty Program Guide.
In point form summary:
– Try to keep your spending low and unpredictable.
– Stack coupons wherever possible
– Don’t be afraid to take a break from a loyalty program if you feel the offers are getting unreasonable.
– Keep an eye out for where the loyalty offers are communicated.
– Be aware of all the ways you can earn loyalty points.
– Track time sensitive offers on a calendar to ensure you don’t miss out.
– Keep an eye on the competitors, don’t remain stupidly loyal.
– Keep track of your points and don’t forget to claim them – particularly if they have an expiry.
– You’ve worked for the loyalty points (through allowing a company insight into your purchases – or more if you proactively collect points) – try not to think of it as “free money”.
– Install an app to ensure you always have your loyalty cards with you.