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New apps make shopping rewards points easier to use

July 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Shoppers are ditching those plastic loyalty reward cards and going high-tech. They're taking advantage of a growing number of stores and apps that are getting creative on how customers earn discounts and free stuff.

Smartphone-savvy shopper Joanna Alva earns points she can redeem for discounts and gift cards at thousands of retailers across the country by just walking into certain stores and scanning featured products using an app called Shopkick.

"I don't have to do anything to really get the points and get rewarded for shopping," said Alva.

Retailers are finding all kinds of new ways to woo you, from letting you merge points with friends, to partnering with other companies so you can use your reward points in other stores.

But the biggest trend in rewards revisions: dumping those plastic membership cards for something else.

"They're using mobile. They're using your cellphone," said Mark Johnson, CEO, Loyalty 360 - The Loyalty Marketer's Association.

The number of retailers offering special deals if you check into their store on Facebook or Foursquare is skyrocketing, and so is the number of businesses that will text you coupons.

Get ready to get rewards for playing. It's part of a new trend called "gamification." Soon players can stop by sites like Gamify.com and earn real-life rewards.

Viggle also allows you to earn reward points simply by watching TV. It actually listens to the show that's on, identifies it, and you can cash in on gift cards and movie tickets.

But should you be worried that what you gain in savings you lose in privacy?

"Most retailers don't like to sell information about your shopping habits to others because they want to use it to get you to spend more money with them," said Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com personal finance expert.

But you should always read the fine print. And, advocates warn, be careful when it comes to store credit cards that offer you cash back and discounts; some cards will share your info with third parties.

"Using a credit-card rewards program can cost you a lot more than the rewards you earn, especially if you end up carrying a balance and paying interest on that card," said Detweiler.

If you rack up reward points, don't forget to spend them. Researchers found that U.S. consumers earn $48 billion a year in points and miles, but fail to redeem one-third of those points and miles.


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