Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sign Me Up and call me 'Sucker'! - Reward Programs, Bonus Points, and Credit Cards

Take a look in your wallet, or even better, check your key chain. How many reward program cards and/or credit cards do you have? Personally, I have no credit cards (thank the gods) but I have five reward/bonus cards on my key chain, and I have a card in my wallet to my favorite coffee shop that allows me a free cup for every ten I buy. Remember when grocery stores simply had sales? I think I was still twelve-years-old when they did that. Now, of course, you have to have their bonus card (which, conveniently, is free) to get the sale price (and a shit load of junk mail now that they have your address). I think FoodLion started it back in the 1980's, and all the others soon followed suit, including Harris Teeter (can't comment on Kroger because we don't have them where I live anymore, nor is there any longer a Bi-Lo, which does have a bonus card and I only blame FoodLion because that's honestly the first one I remember ever getting). Amazingly, Wal-mart doesn't have a bonus/discount card, but it does have its own credit card.

Not only have the grocery stores saturated the market with their little plastic cards, but other places have as well. Here's the breakdown of what's on my key chain/in my wallet: FoodLion MVP Card, HarrisTeeter VIC Card, OfficeDepot Worklife Rewards Card, Dick's Sporting Goods Scorecard Rewards, Books-A-Million Millionaire's Club Discount Card, and finally, Barnes & Noble Member Program (what a boring name compared to everyone else) and I used to have a Staples one as well, but I lost it. Most of these were free, save for the two bookstores who charge $15 (BAM) or $25 (B&N) per year to receive a mere 10% off. The grocery stores, as I mentioned, just give you what would have been, in the past, the weekly sales prices. The ones that are the most full of crap, though, are the Dick's Sporting Goods and OfficeDepot cards as well as the so called Visa Rewards Program I have through my bank by using my Visa Check Card. These things are insidious. They promise you points that can be used for additional savings or items as Rewards for being such a loyal customer. What a crock of shit! Typically, with these programs, you get one point per dollar spent (although Dick's is cool enough to offer double points on items that are their exclusive store brands and to occasionally send out coupons worth bonus points). What that means is, by the time you've accumulated enough points to get that $10 gift certificate or pick something from the rewards catalog, you've spent anywhere from $300-$5,000! As much as I hate to admit it, these tactics work. I've bought stuff from Dick's that I could've gotten from Target or Wal-mart because I wanted my points or because they sent me a bunch of coupons (never mind that the other two places may have been $5-$10 cheaper and I had to go there for other things and the trip to Dick's was out of my way; well, where I live the Target and Dick's are across the street from each other, but still...). I do the same thing with certain home office supplies; I end up at OfficeDepot, even though all I've ever gotten from them is coupons for stuff I either don't need, or at least don't need the bulk amount required to use the coupon. You know the kinds of coupons I'm talking about; the ones that say stuff like, “Get 10¢ off your next purchase of $100 or more.” At least reward programs don't effect your credit.

Credit card applications are everywhere too. These are even more maddening than the reward programs, because these things can actually get people in an assload of trouble. I get in trouble at work because I don't sign enough people up for our store credit card, but the truth is, I think people are sick of being asked to sign up for stuff every time they walk into any store. I've actually had people in department stores wave me over to the cosmetics counter as I was walking by just to beg me to fill out an application because these stores impose quotas on their staff (I know, my Mom used to work for one that would regularly threaten employees with termination if they didn't make their quotas; never mind if they had gotten double or triple the quota the month before). So, before you get pissed at that clerk for asking, remember, their job may very well be on the line because of corporate greed. That doesn't change the fact, however, that I think most consumers are just plain sick of playing twenty questions at every cash register they walk up to. “Would you like to sign up for our bonus-card-credit-plan-get-a-free-lollipop-with-every-
purchase-as-long-as-you-sign-over-your-first-born-child-
and-give-us-a-dna-sample-card? If you sign up today you get a free kick in the nuts!
” I work retail and I'm a consumer, so I see both sides of it. The poor clerk has to ask because they'll get in trouble if they don't, but they're also tired of getting cursed out by the customers who are sick of being asked and don't realize the clerk is just doing their job and has to ask them. And during the holiday season, it gets even worse, because then all the businesses not only ask you to sign up for their rewards/discount program and/or credit card, but then they want you to buy some piece of decorated cardboard for “only a dollar” with the name of a charity printed on it so they can post it on their wall or window to make it look like they give a shit about anything but making money, and you can assuage your guilt for being a “have” instead of a “have-not” for another year.

Most of us are already in debt up to our necks (or beyond) and are getting fed up with the constantly rising prices gas which affects the prices of everything else (thanks a lot Dubya!). Many of us have gotten or will receive by the end of the summer, so called “stimulus checks” courtesy of the federal government. Do they think we'll actually spend them? I didn't; mine went in the bank to help create a bit of a buffer between checks for bills and unforeseen incidentals. Ok, ok, so I bought some golfing supplies (yes, at Dick's Sporting Goods so I could get my frakkin' points) with part of it, but that was only like $70 and the check was for $600, so bite me! I also ended up having to get new glasses (because mine broke) and my dog is due for several booster shots; so much for stimulating the economy with impulse purchases. I'd be willing to bet that most other folks are going to use theirs the same way or to try to help pay off some of that credit card debt. But I digress. Simply put, we all know that the credit card applications and bonus programs that get shoved in our face are total bullshit, just try to be cool about refusing them and remember that the clerk offering them is trying to keep their job.

~ Carlisle

Next week: “Yee Haw, eh?” a book review of Hockey Night in Dixie: Minor Pro Hockey in the American South by Jon C. Stott and my thoughts on being a southern hockey fan.

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