Join The Club?

Q: Over the last couple of years I’ve collected a number of club cards for a variety of stores. I’ve found that they offer great savings, but before you get one you have to answer a lot questions. Since it’s not a charge card, why do they need your personal information?

–S. Springer, Brooklyn, NY

A: Club cards, which were developed in the ’90s, have become increasingly popular with a broad variety of stores as well as consumers. Specialty shops, grocery chains, convenience and warehouse stores all have done a persuasive job encouraging shoppers to sign up for the savings and benefits these cards offer.

What many consumers don’t realize is that, aside from using the card as a tool to engender customer loyalty, stores use your information–name, address, phone number–to track your buying habits. Your personal information is eventually sold to marketing companies that then solicit you by phone or mail based on your profile. That access is worth much more to them than the discounts you’re given when you shop using your club card. If you notice, the card is always scanned whether or not the merchandise being purchased is on sale.

While it’s fine to enjoy receiving discounts from using club cards, it is important to continue to compare prices and shop around. Although an item may be selling for a reduced price, it may not be the best price. Also, if one item is significantly discounted, you could easily cancel out your savings by overspending on other products in the store that might be overpriced. Remember–the stores are in business to make money.

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