Online Shopping: Loyalty Programs and Credit Cards

This is a continuation from tips for online shopping. You can view part 1 here. The advice below on loyalty programs and credit cards could also apply to shopping in store.

Loyalty Programs and Credit Cards

Consider a loyalty program or credit card for the retailers you shop at regularly. Most sites have an email marketing list, but this steps up to a loyalty program generally when they can track your purchases by that email address or phone number. In exchange for tracking your purchase trends and occasional surveys, you can accumulate points for store credit and other special offers like early sale access and discount codes.

Free Loyalty Programs

There are plenty of good loyalty programs that are completely free. Most people are familiar with these from grocery stores and pharmacies, but nearly every major retailer has their own form of this as well, such as Starbucks, Express, Ann Taylor/LOFT, Best Buy, and Sephora. These programs send you occasional discount codes or sale notifications, special access to new items or sales, birthday rewards, and rewards back for spending certain amounts.

Generally, the more you spend, the more rewards you accrue in free merchandise, points, or credits back. Several stores (e.g., Sephora) will directly offer better perks once you surpass specific spending tiers, but there are no other requirements than signing up to get the entry level perks – this is pretty similar to how airline and hotel programs work.

Paid Loyalty Programs

Only go for a paid program or subscription if you are certain you can realize the benefits of it. Don’t bank on future potential purchases, and make sure you really weigh the cost of it against your benefits. Right now my only paid loyalty-type shopping memberships are Costco and Amazon Prime, which I can share with my household. Last year I also signed up for one year of the rewards club because the discount on the patio furniture I was buying immediately saved me more than the cost of the membership. Make sure to set a reminder to cancel any free trials or subscriptions that will automatically renew.

Take advantage of any free subscriptions you receive with memberships you already hold (e.g., from your credit card, your alumni group). Through my credit cards, I get free two-day ShopRunner shipping and airport lounge access. I also get free Hulu through my paid Spotify account. Recently, I booked a rental car for an upcoming trip and the cheapest option ended up being through the Costco travel portal, after comparing several providers and alternative memberships/promos (direct, AAA, car insurance, alumni club, credit card rewards portal).

Store Credit Cards

For the stores you shop the most at, it can be worth jumping from a normal loyalty program to a credit card. Typically, in this case they will offer a higher percentage of cash back or the equivalent for that specific store. This can work great for anywhere you already spend a significant amount of money. I know several fans of the Target RedCard. Most retailers do not charge an annual fee to have the card, but be very careful in your selections as these tend to charge higher interest versus a bank card if you’re not paying it off in full.

I am in no way a financial adviser, but this strategy works best to save more money in discounts and rewards for places you are already spending money. This will impact your credit score and isn’t as light a decision as a free email sign-up. There are plenty of other bank credit cards or free loyalty programs out there that can be a better fit if this doesn’t meet your needs.

I do have a Banana Republic credit card. This covers all brands in the BR family (Old Navy, Gap, BR, Athleta). A decent portion of my clothing comes from these stores, since they offer petite sizing aka pre-tailored clothing for short people. The credit card gives me an extra discount on top of most sales, money back for future purchases, free basic alterations, access to cardmember only sales and events, and faster free shipping, among other perks. If nothing else is going on, I can also get 10% off purchases on Tuesdays for no other reason than being a cardholder. This adds up to a nice chunk of change saved in discounts for things I am buying anyway from their brand.

Those are my top tips here! Do a little searching to see what works best for you!

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