Is That Discount Program Really Worth It?

So you've just joined a membership club of some sort, or perhaps accepted a new job. One of the benefits you might see is a discount program. Your first reaction is probably "Cool!" After all, as much as 90% of Americans use coupons, and it isn't like the economy is chugging along at 100% right now. Anything that can help you save is great.

Discount programs are a popular benefit because they can add instant relevant value to anything - you may not use your roadside assistance program every day, but you can use the discount program it provides. Ideally, if you use it enough, it'll cover the cost of doing business with whoever gave it to you.

Sounds great, right?

The unfortunate reality is not all discount programs are created equal. What's the difference between a beneficial, worthwhile discount program that can save you hundreds of dollars, if not more, and one that probably isn't worth your time?

The Characteristics of a Great Discount Program

Like a car, a quick test drive of your discount program will give you an indication if it's worth your time. Look for these traits that all great discount programs have in common:

  • Local, in-store offers. Many programs are built on publicly-available affiliate deals, most of which are online deals of 3-5% off. Ninety-five percent of consumer spending still happens in-store at local merchants, but those deals can be tough to arrange. It's okay to have a few online offers, but most of the offers should be in-store at merchants in your area.
  • Simple redemption process. The site should provide clear redemption instructions. Most deals should be "print and redeem at the point of sale," but others will require a visit to a third-party site or even a phone call. The instructions and terms should be concise and easy to understand.
  • Merchants recognize the offers. There are few things more embarrassing than getting to the front of a line and presenting a coupon that requires the cashier to call over a manager, who then has to call a regional manager, and so on up the chain until you're eventually told they can't honor the deal. Merchants should recognize the offer; if too many don't, it could be a sign that the discount program provider hasn't invested in a merchant relations team.
  • The deals should be respectable. As obvious as this sounds, many programs offer "discounts" in only the most technical definitions of the term. Most of the deals should be at least 10% off, with a decent amount of 50% off mixed in. The "free drink with purchase of five burgers" isn't worth your time - unless you regularly go thirsty when consuming your regular intake of five burgers. Then, by all means, go for it.
  • Fresh, new merchants. A good program should frequently add new merchants and remove non-compliant businesses (the ones who turn down your coupons). Again, this is a sign of an active merchant relations team, a critical part of a worthwhile discount program.
  • Your data is protected. This one may require a bit more investigation, or even a phone call to the provider, but certain companies in the discount programs industry make revenue on the backend by selling user purchasing data to retailers. Your data should be kept between you and the discount program. Period.

Use, Save, Love

This isn't rocket science. To you, the consumer, a discount program should be as simple as finding a deal you're interested in, redeeming the coupon, and basking in the savings. Anything beyond that, and you don't have a discount program; you have an advertising program.

If your discount program is full of local merchants who recognize and accept the offers, you're in great hands. Use the program frequently, recommend merchants you'd like to see added to the program administrators, and try something new while saving a few bucks.

In many cases, the amount you can save with a discount program will be more than the dues you pay to the providing organization. Even if it doesn't offset those costs, you can still place hundreds of dollars back in your pockets. We estimate that consumers who use Access discount programs can save thousands every year.

One final note: If you do use a discount program and find that you love it, let whichever company provided it to you know. They'll be glad to hear their investment in great member benefits is paying off.

Brandon Carter is a marketing communications manager for Access Development, a national leader in merchant content for discount loyalty and rewards programs. Click here to learn more about their programs and content.