7 On Your Side:Rewards Programs

Music teacher Diane Anderson loves to play beautiful music. So when Anderson was offered a rewards card at a favorite book and CD store recently, she figured, why not? She and her husband are always buying things there anyway.
  "We're both avid readers and listeners of music," says Anderson.
  About one-third of U.S. retailers now offer rewards programs as a competitive strategy. Consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky says they tend to pop up in certain industries - such as book chains.
  "Office stores, electronic stores, pet supply stores, certainly the traditional things you think of to collect rewards points like airlines, hotels, even dry cleaners," says Dworsky also the founder of www.consumerworld.org.
  But not all perk plans are alike. Some ask for lots of personal information that can be sold to other companies. And look carefully at the perks, they may not be worth it. Bottom line, ask specific questions before joining.
  "Is it easy to sign up, is there a fee to sign up, is the reward generous, do you get some extra perks like coupons in the mail, or maybe even free shipping?," Dworsky suggests. "You just hope that you're going to get some savings with the cards, because the cost of living is so high," says Anderson. And keep in mind, the simple idea behind these programs is to bring you back into the store to buy again. "This is the new fangled version of green stamps," says Dworsky.
  Even if you don't spend the minimum required for a discount, there are often other perks to being a member in these programs, such as free shipping or online coupons. So check out the whole program before deciding.

Christine Nelson reporting. cnelson@kltv.com