App-based programs offer hidden benefits while points programs still a mixed bag
By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist
I’ve been somewhat hesitant to join loyalty rewards programs offered by some of my favourite shops and retailers after reading many articles that offer only scathing criticism. For the longest time, the rewards card I had in my wallet was an Air Miles Rewards card, though it isn’t so much a loyalty program since Air Miles are accepted at different retailers and online stores.
Recent changes in my life, however, have opened my eyes to the benefits of being a loyal customer. I’m now a member of a few different rewards clubs. My experience thus far with the traditional card-based points programs has been standard.
For example, I’m a member of the HMart rewards program, a Korean grocer with a few locations in the Lower Mainland. Though I never saw the value in getting a card myself, HMart was the only grocery store I used for my Korean foods, and those were imperative. My need for kimchi and bulgogi, coupled with the fact that HMart is the closest Korean grocer to me, meant that signing up for a points card would do me little harm. In fact, I routinely save $5 off every single purchase I make there simply by redeeming the points I have accumulated.
Indigo (or Chapters) is also a membership I proudly retain. I visit the bookstore frequently, and my impulsive book-buying behaviour makes me an ideal candidate. Not only do I get special pricing with an Indigo card, but their system also makes it easy to accumulate points quickly and redeem them whenever I choose. It also helps that the program works seamlessly between different stores: Indigo, Coles, and Chapters all fall under this program. Joining this rewards program, if you frequent the bookstore as much as I do, is a win-win.
But Starbucks is the most impressive rewards program I have joined.
The designers of the Starbucks program, which includes a smartphone application, have implemented a program that thrives off a seemingly human need to excel. I’m obsessed with levelling up in the program, on my way to becoming a “Gold” rewards member. This entitles me to benefits such as discounts and free merchandise, as well as exclusive member-only promotions.
Though the idea of these programs is to get you spending more, there are some practical cost-saving attributes found in app-based programs. The Starbucks program, for example, requires that the user pay for drinks from a gift-card balance in order to acquire the stars to “level up.” Ironically, this is perhaps the hidden gem of the whole regime, but also the one that prevented me from joining long ago in the first place.
Shopping through card balances keeps your debit or credit cards in your wallet. I’ve had some pretty rough bank statements for too much Interac usage, and paying into a rewards program balance once or twice per month is much more cost-effective than using your debit card daily for that $3-coffee.
Reward cards also add a bit of certainty to my budget, and certainty will help me infinitely in mastering the art of budgeting my personal finances.