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Conscientious, bargain hunting shoppers have long heralded the virtues of shopping around in order to get the best deal, But these days, brand loyalty could reap greater rewards than pursuing a polygamous shopping relationship. Many businesses – from hotel chains to supermarkets and airlines – now offer their customers loyalty cards, reward cards or point cards, and there are now a huge number of schemes that offer some form of bonus to customers who return to the same business on a regular basis.
Upon purchasing goods or a service for the first time, a consumer will typically be offered the chance to join a reward scheme. This normally requires filling out a short application form which asks for a minimal amount of data such as a name and address. You'll then receive a plastic card, of similar size to a bank or credit card, which holds a unique customer number. This card is used to collect points which can then be cashed in to receive discounts and claim extra benefits on any future purchases.
The advantage of such schemes is mutual: the customer receives discounts on products and the business uses the information for market research and to encourage return visits. Nowadays, many large supermarket chains offer loyalty cards and points can be collected by purchasing any item from any store within the chain. Additionally, extra bonus points are sometimes offered to shoppers on selected products as an added incentive to purchase.
Airlines are also known for their use of loyalty and reward schemes, with long running programs for air miles and frequent flyer points. Those who clock up a large number of flights are then entitled to use the points like money and upgrade to business class or purchase flights for free.
Almost all major hospitality chains have some form of hotel loyalty program that offers their guests extra benefits. The more often a guest stays with a certain hotel chain, the more points they can collect – which can then be used for free room upgrades and extended check out times. Some even allow members to select room preferences online, such as foam versus feather pillows.
Even coffee bars and sandwich shops, from Starbucks to Subway, now offer customers the chance to get a free brew or six-inch sub after a certain number of purchases. In such cases, a more simplistic paper card is normally used, where customers receive an ink stamp after every purchase.
Reward schemes are designed to attract new customers and make existing ones more loyal, and are a great way to save money, gain extra benefits and receive better service. So, before you buy, remember that staying loyal could save you more than shopping around.