Membership Cards, also called Loyalty Cards, Discount Cards or Club Cards are one of many ways to save on groceries. But do they really save you money, or do the stores actually use them for their own benefit, costing you more than you think?
Here’s a hard look at the Pros and Cons of Grocery Store Customer Loyalty Programs:
On the face of it – yes. With loyalty card you do get considerable discount on the shelf price on variety of products.
Problem is – studies have shown that most stores that carry customer loyalty programs have tend to mark up their every day prices (intentionally or not) on all non-member/non-sale products.
How much so? Anywhere between 28% – 71% higher prices on all non-sale products than in stores without such programs.
A store’s everyday price has bigger impact on your bottom line since few customers purchase only the discounted items.
These shops create a perception that their loyalty cards do save money by prominently displaying on the receipt the ‘savings’ their loyalty card got you.
The sad truth is however, that you probably could have paid less for your whole purchase, had you gone to a store that doesn’t carry a membership card.
More so, sometimes even the item on sale for card holders cost more than the everyday price at a store with no club card program.
The first rule of money saving is to Shop Around. Loyalty cards however, are designed to make you do the Opposite of That!
You bet they do!
All stores who carry loyalty programs compile a profile of you. This profile is than used to analyze you, your needs and most of all your vulnerability to advertising and promotional material.
Your profile is worth a lot of money, and may be sold by the store to others. Few stores have even put the information public.
How can this information be used for the store’s benefit?
- Haven’t been to the store lately? – be sure to receive an attractive “$4 off any $20” or any other purchase coupon, valid for the next week only.
- Went to the store and used it? Count on getting another one next week.
- Haven’t been to the shop? Maybe you don’t want to spend $20 on stuff you don’t really need? Chances are you’ll get a “$3 off any $15 coupon”… and so it goes…
This is just an example. There are numerous other ways stores use your profile for their benefits.
So should I get a card or not?
What should you do than? Get as many club cards as you can, or choose to opt it all?
It depends. Membership cards may offer great ways to save on groceries, but before applying for one consider the following:
- If you are buying at a specific store on a regular basis regardless of its prices – get a membership card.
If you buy there anyway because it’s more convenient/you like the store/any other reason – at least get a discount on some of the products.
- Some stores let you to load eCoupons onto your loyalty card. Not all stores offer eCoupons, but they are becoming more common.
- If you find it hard to resist all those “$4 off any $20 for the next 3 days” offers they keep throwing at you – Avoid loyalty cards at all costs. You will end up wasting much more than what you’ll ever gain with those discounts.
If you’ve read my frugal grocery shopping tips (and if you haven’t – make sure you don’t miss it) then you recall my recommendation for compiling a price list.
I can’t emphasize this enough: Compile a Price List.
And after you’ve done that – join as many club cards as you can. Because now you can tell whether an item on sale is what it appears to be. And even if it is on sale and you purchase it – you can tell the price difference on all the other non-sale products and you can avoid buying them.
Membership cards do offer various ways to save on groceries and may be rewarding, if you use a price list and is able avoid temptations.