Have you got a load of loyalty cards cluttering up your handbag or your wallet? I know I do.

Loyalty schemes are a great way to save a bit of cash as we continue to endure the cost-of-living crisis. But the bad news is the schemes aren’t nearly as generous as they used to be.

Many supermarkets have reduced the number of points per purchase you receive, or have devalued their schemes so you don’t get as much bang for your buck. But there’s a new system supermarkets are applying their loyalty schemes, and it hasn’t gone down well.

Here’s my guide on what you need to watch for and how to make the most of your points.

What on earth is a unit price?

Supermarkets are a masters of methods to get you spending.  From BOGOF deals to crafty positioning of ‘impulse buys’, the second that you walk in to a store they’re working out the best ways to get you to fling a few extra things in to your basket or trolly.

One recent development is changing the unit price of goods for loyalty scheme members. The unit price is simply what you pay for each item on the shelves. Many of the big supermarkets have now introduced a two-tier pricing system for many (but not all) items in-store or online. That means you might be distracted by a brightly coloured sticker with a tempting price – but that price is only for loyalty scheme members. So if you just see a tempting price – but not the twist – they you could end up with a pricy shop. And many, many readers have contacted me to say they’ve been caught out by this crafty pricing switcheroo.

The other problem, of course, is you have to remember to scan your card at the till, otherwise you might make an expensive error in your haste to get home.

While I’ve got nothing against discounts for loyal customers, I have a number of concerns about unit price discounting. It’s far too easy to make a mistake and end up with an expensive basket of goods. It’s also increasingly hard to spot a decent deal among the flurry of other labels, like the aforementioned BOGOF or ‘twofer’ offers, one-off price discounts, discontinued lines and meal deals. Confusing labelling is a major issue with supermarkets.

Again, a cynic might argue that this is yet another way to bamboozle you when buying for the family. 

What are the advantages of using a loyalty card?

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are still bargains to be had though.

First things first. It might seem obvious (I’d failed to notice this) but with most retailers you can ditch your plastic loyalty card or key fob and download a loyalty app on your phone now, which makes checking out easier if you’re on the go. Empty your bag or purse and go through the online apps for the shops you regularly use, so you can see which plastic cards you can retire.

There are other advantages of loyalty cards too. Because the supermarket or retailer knows your shopping habits, it can tailor offers to you or remind you of items you regularly buy that you might have forgotten about. This means they can personalise new offers that might actually save you more cash in the long run – though I’d check ‘em out on the app before you hit the shops so you don’t fork out money on spontaneous purchases.

‘Cross-pollination’ is a term I hate that businesses use to describe using or buying goods or services from other sources. What this means in practice is you can also use your loyalty card with other retailers to pick up points as you go. So keep an eye out for a supermarket brand when you buy a train ticket online, for example. There are also a wide range of voucher or offer services that give you extra points if you use their cards to purchase from the supermarket. Your bank or credit card might also have some of these offers too, so see what they’re offering on their websites.

Petrol costs are still a nightmare for drivers, so you may find that your supermarket loyalty card gives you extra points on their forecourts – or even cash off filling your car.

Finally, there may also be extra rewards for a ‘big shop’. Or the opportunity to ‘trade up’ your points for vouchers that give you more spending power.

How to get the best deal

The best thing about loyalty cards is you don’t actually need to be loyal! Most of us have a range of supermarkets relatively nearby, so sign up to the schemes that work for you and become a ‘card tart’.

Shop around for the best deals online so you can compare and contrast to find the cheapest deals that week. Many supermarkets are running regular price drop promotions and have a list of reduced items on their website. These are sometimes spreadsheets that aren’t searchable, so don’t forget the ‘control and f’ option on your laptop or the ‘tap and search’ function on your phone to find the items you want to buy.

There are loads of great comparison tables for your loyalty cards online. But ultimately, if you sign up for the retailers that work for you then shop around, you’ll make the most of the best deals available. Bear in mind that shops regularly change the T&Cs for their points systems, offers and discounts, so don’t assume that things are the same as this time last year. Almost all points have dropped in value or are being offered more sparingly, so check before you shop.

Anything to beware of?

Why yes! What’s in it for the supermarkets, I hear you cry?!

Aside from keeping you loyal in one of the most fiercely competitive markets in the UK, supermarkets create a ‘virtual you’ from your online shopping data and patterns. They use this data to come up with startlingly accurate assessments of you, your personality, likes, demographics, temperament and receptiveness.

This data isn’t just used by the supermarket or retailer. The virtual you is very valuable and this ‘big data’ can be traded with other businesses too. Some of this data is gleamed from other internet sources and is highly personal, like your birthday, ethnic origin and health status. Find out more here.

Leaving aside the heavy hand of Big Brother, don’t forget that goods are only worth what you are willing to pay for them. So nothing beats a shopping list and a budget. If you can get rewards for loyalty then great. But don’t spend on things you don’t want or need.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

Please share me around

Share useful info with your friends