Loyalty cards revealed


Gordon Martin

We all have a small range of items or services we buy or use time and time again. It might be a particular supermarket because it has the best multi-buy deals, or a certain cinema because you enjoy their popcorn. Seeing as businesses are aware that they have a number of repeat customers, they've created an incentive to keep them coming back for as long as possible and, most importantly, to stop you going to their competitors. This incentive often comes in the form of something called a "loyalty card". These cards usually come along with perks such as discounts and freebies, which could mean a smoother cash-flow at month end. If you've ever wondered what in the world loyalty cards are and what the big fuss is about, we've tried to lift the lid on these schemes.

What is loyalty?

Have you ever found yourself whole-heartedly devoted to something? Whether it's a cause, a person, or for the purposes of this guide, a brand, this is probably as a result of loyalty. A dictionary defines loyalty as "faithfulness to commitments or obligations". Leading researchers in the science of loyalty say that loyalty usually happens when a person or thing has made someone's life safer, easier and better than it was initially. According to studies, our brains are constantly on the look-out for clues regarding who we can trust and what to do, so if you provide people with trust, belonging, and purpose they'll be loyal to you. The aforementioned is usually what motivates people to get a store loyalty card. You may presently have a few sitting in your wallet that you forgot about or perhaps, you've never even had one before. If you fall into the category of someone who's had one, then you probably got it because that brand adds value to your life in one way or another.

What are loyalty cards?

As mentioned earlier, loyalty cards are usually credit card shape and size that were initially made for the sole purpose of rewarding repeat customers. Sometimes the cards come in the form of stamp cards as well but if you don't fancy carrying around the physical card, you may be able to download the app as a convenient alternative for you. This way, you have everything you need on your phone and you don't have to worry about leaving your loyalty card at home or losing it.

Reward schemes can be complex

A loyalty card is supposed to encourage customers to keep on coming to that same shop or getting services they offer. Not only do businesses tend to benefit from customers who repeatedly come and buy their goods, but some derive value from the data they're able to gather. Loyalty cards give them an indication of shopping patterns and what customers are buying which is valuable information. They also store the information that you give them about yourself when you sign up for the card initially in a database. Their goal is to make sense of this data and use it to help them better interact with you as well as create a greater customer experience.

This is no surprise seeing as a recent study found that organisations that include the collection and use of data in their approach seem to have greater levels of market growth as well as customer engagement than those who don't. If you know that you're not comfortable with giving out your data, then a loyalty card may not be for you. Competition is getting intense on a national and global basis and both online and offline. This means that organisations have to step their game up in order to keep their customers coming back and deter them from going to their competitors. The loyalty card is one of many ways for them to do this.

Things we buy over and over again

A quick survey in the office reveals some of the top repeat purchases:

  • Takeaway coffee
  • Magazines
  • Chewing gum
  • Travelcards
  • Phone credit
  • Bottled water

How do loyalty cards work?

Loyalty cards usually run on a point-based system. Every time you make a purchase, it is recorded on your card and you're most likely awarded a certain number of points. In most cases, these points can be exchanged for a product or discount vouchers. Many brands offer one point for every pound that you spend. This means that if you happen to buy a milkshake worth £1 every time you visit your favourite restaurant and you need thirty points in order to be awarded a free milkshake, then you'd need to buy thirty milkshakes in order to get one free. Some loyalty cards offer vouchers, advance access to product releases as well as other rewards. At times, exclusive promotions and special offers are sent in the post or via email. The primary objective of a loyalty card for a business is usually to keep you coming back to them instead of going to their competitors. However, for you, it should be to save your hard-earned cash in some form.

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Do you save with loyalty cards?

If you have an emergency call on your finances, the rewards you'll get from loyalty cards won't necessarily replace measures such as a payday loan. However, you could save a noticeable amount, depending on the brand. Every loyalty card is different in the sense that they all usually tend to have varying point or reward systems. Not every company uses a point-based system, however, the end goal still tends to be keeping the customer's loyalty through certain incentives. Based on these features you can save, however, how much is relative to their reward system. You should also try and ensure you actually use your loyalty cards which means it's best to get one at a store or company that you shop at often. Some companies will wipe away all of your points and you'll have to start from scratch if you don't use them over a certain period of time. If you have vouchers, those also sometimes expire after a certain amount of time, so try and ensure you utilise them. Irrespective of these factors, no matter how small, every pound you save can go towards a rainy-day pot.

Busy market place

What type of loyalty cards are available?

Supermarkets usually offer loyalty cards for repeat customers. Next time you go shopping for the house, consider inquiring about their loyalty cards and what their incentives are. Find out what rewards and discounts they have at that time and how many points you need to get them. You could end up saving on food, household items, and other goods they have in the shop. With some supermarkets, the points you acquire when you shop there can be used with other brands they partner with, such as restaurants, cinemas, airlines, or energy companies. Usually, you will be given a voucher which you'll have to print off and this can be presented at your place of choice. Sometimes, by redeeming your points with a partner brand online, you can end up getting double or even triple the value of the points you've earned.

If you happen to be a regular at your favourite restaurant, why not check to see if they have a loyalty card? By getting one, you might be able to get free meals. They could also consist of discounts as well as special offers. These could include priority bookings, free starters or desserts, birthday treats, or free entry into competitions or monthly draws. Check online and look for websites that will show you restaurants that have loyalty cards. Hunt for the ones that have the best offers and it shouldn't take too long before you're able to get a reward.

Planning the perfect holiday? Sometimes, points acquired at stores can be used when you're booking a holiday or planning to travel. You'd have to check with the store that you have the loyalty card with whether your points can be converted and with whom. It's usually pivotal to the partnerships they have with other retailers, so ask questions and do a little homework where you can.

For those who happen to have coffee or any hot drink as a part of their daily routine, loyalty cards may be a goldmine. Since you happen to buy coffee, or any item at that, on a daily basis from a particular cafe, you could end up getting fairly rewarded for it. Check out the cafe that you usually pop into and see what rewards they have for regular customers. Don't forget to compare other coffee shops or cafes in the area to see which benefits you the most.

Going to the cinema often can be pretty expensive. It may, therefore, be in your best interest to check out any loyalty cards the cinema might happen to have. You could end up getting discounts, free food, or even two for one deals on cinema tickets. It may be worth checking your local cinema and seeing what they've got on offer and how it can help you save on your future cinema visits.

Believe it or not, pharmacies also offer loyalty cards sometimes as well. Seeing as most don't solely offer medicine and sell other items, it is understandable why they do. If you happen to go to a local pharmacy regularly to buy specific items, check if they offer loyalty cards. You could end up with two-for-one bargains and freebies by doing so. The card is usually free so you have nothing to lose.

Should you get a loyalty card?

Whether you need a loyalty card or not would need to be something for you to decide on your own. The good thing as mentioned earlier, is that you don't have anything to lose by having one as most of the time they're free. It's more beneficial if you happen to be a regular customer as you will benefit more from having one. What you could do is write a list of all of the shops that you're a regular at. You can then do some research and find out what rewards they offer alongside their loyalty cards. This should help you decide which loyalty cards have the greatest potential of helping you save big. Bear in mind that some loyalty cards require a large number of points before you're given any type of award. This means it may take a long time before you can earn anything tangible. On these premises, try not to let a loyalty card dictate where and when you shop. Instead, go where the best deals are and where you will end up saving the most.

For some, loyalty cards behave as a symbol of status. Most people want to feel like they belong or as though they're a part of something. Loyalty cards do this by giving you a level of exclusivity. By doing such, they are able to offer you items, discounts, and vouchers that non-members or loyalty card-holders don't have access to. Depending on who's offering the loyalty card and what they have to give, it can perhaps be likened to flying first class on a plane. You get more recognition as well as privileges for regularly patronising the brand and ultimately spending more than the average customer.


There are many routes to saving, so it's a good idea to explore every aspect possible, loyalty cards included. As mentioned in this guide, your best bet might be to focus on getting loyalty cards from stores or organisations that you happen to visit or request services from frequently. By doing this, you'll be able to get the most out of what you spend over time. You might save enough to build an emergency fund which is key to maintaining your finances; every pound counts. There isn't much to lose from getting a loyalty card, especially if you happen to be a repeat customer, but do be careful about what data you share and where that data can end up. You can usually get them for free and if you're a regular customer, it's an opportunity to be rewarded for all of your spending. Loyalty cards can take you one step closer to your financial goals if you try and make the most of them.

For more information on loyalty cards check out this article.