Saunter into your favorite retailer and you might notice some curious things happening with tech. People are tapping away at iPads stationed at the register, and paying with their iPhones instead of cash. Do they know something that you don't? If you aren't taking advantage of digital reward programs, the answer is a resounding yes.
You may already have a stack of unused reward cards taking up space in your wallet, but the days of printed punch cards are coming to an end. Increasingly, businesses are taking their loyalty programs online by linking them to mobile media. This translates into improved benefits for the customer; instead of simply getting a discount on your purchase you can earn a free Spicy Crab Roll, or simplify your morning routine by bypassing the need for physical cash.
One such program is Belly, a free nationwide loyalty service available in Chicago as well as major cities across the country. Download the free Belly app for your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad or for your Android phone, and show retailers the QR code on your screen: every purchase you make at a store that's on board with the program (and there are many) goes toward earning you deals. Depending on where you live, and which stores are participating, these could include anything from a night of free boarding for your dog to a week-long pass at a local gym.
Starbucks is another retailer with an amped-up digital loyalty program - one that's built entirely on mobile technology. Whether the largest coffeehouse chain in the world is a daily indulgence or you're only an occasional visitor to its ubiquitous stores, My Starbucks Rewards is worth exploring. Register a physical Starbucks card or gift card you've received, link it to the free mobile app, and you're ready to earn some Stars. Once you reach 30 you'll achieve Gold status and start receiving free food and drinks. Even new users get special offers and deals through the app, which you can load up with cash from your credit card and use to pay for your purchases (including bags of Starbucks coffee in grocery stores). Through a partnership with iTunes, users can also download a free song-of-the-week.
Nobody wants to be saddled with countless reward cards, many of which get you little and ultimately end up in the trash. With mobile-based programs like these, though, the card is your smartphone, and it's chock-full of benefits. These are the punch cards of a digital generation, useful and convenient. They can make your interactions with retailers a lot more satisfying.