Today’s “Ask the Readers” comes to Get Rich Slowly from Luke Landes, founder of Consumerism Commentary.

Retailers are eager to turn their customers into raving fans, and business owners, whether proprietors of the local delicatessen or CEOs of multinational corporations, will do whatever it takes to bring shoppers back into the store. Customer loyalty is a prized asset, and companies are finding more sophisticated methods of tailoring their specials to the needs of each shopper.

It starts simple. I’m somewhat loyal to an ice cream shop in the vicinity. While I do feel it’s the best ice cream shop in the area, the owners encourage customers to keep coming back by offering a punch card. After each purchase, the cashier punches a hole in the card, and after the tenth hole punch, I can trade the card in for a free treat. While I try not to let such manipulation affect my snacking decisions, when the free ice cream approaches, I’ll be more likely to stop by even when I should be watching my health.

Supermarkets have elevated this concept to new heights. Not only do major grocery stores provide loyalty cards as a way of offering discounts to most customers, but every purchase shoppers make while swiping or scanning your card is tracked in a massive database. The information is increasingly used to offer exclusive discounts. Based on shopping patterns, the card may offer discounts available only to a small subset of shoppers. These individualized automatic coupons make comparison shopping more difficult.

Today’s “Ask the Readers” comes from a reader of both Get Rich Slowly and Consumerism Commentary.

A store I shop in recently changed their rewards program. In the past, the program offered points for every purchase, and the points could be later traded in for a discount on a future purchase. The store now uses the loyalty program to offer discounts on items, like supermarkets do, notifying me by email when the products I typically buy are discounted in the loyalty program. This isn’t the only store where finding discounts and shopping for the best deals is harder, especially because discounted prices aren’t advertised well and aren’t available to the same people at the same time.

I want to be able to make the most of loyalty programs and get the best discounts available, especially for the products I really want and those that are the most expensive. How do use your loyalty cards to maximize your savings and take advantage of every possible, relevant discount?

I consider myself a satisficer in this area of money management, not a maximizer. If I’m getting discounts most of the time when I shop for groceries, household items, or any other product for which loyalty programs are available, I’m happy. I may not be shaving every cent possible off every purchase, but I’m doing well overall.

There are some shoppers, whoever, who have made an art of surveying the scene in every shopping opportunity and eking out the savings no matter what, without resorting to extreme couponing. This reader would appreciate any insight from expert discount-seekers. How do you take the most advantage of loyalty programs? What are some of your favorite tips and suggestions to save money on the items you buy most often?

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