Everyone loves free stuff. This isn’t jut stating the obvious. Market research backs up this maxim. Ninety two percent of all credit cards issued in 2011 had a rewards component, up from 57 percent in 2003. As of 2008, the average American adult had at least two co-branded or affinity credit cards. Not only that, but according to both MasterCard and Visa, co-branded cards are used more often than all other cards and generate higher transaction volume.
The most prevalent categories for co-branded cards, in order of popularity are chain retail stores, airlines, restaurant/entertainment/sports, and hotels/auto rentals. So how do co-branded credit card companies leverage this general desire for incentives to expand their customer bases?
The key is determining which kinds of rewards are the most compelling for the audience in question. These rewards fall into six general categories:
- Earn points for spending with travel or merchant partners.
- Earn experiential rewards (concert tickets, VIP event access, etc.).
- Discounts on specific enthusiast oriented goods and services.
- Contributions towards favored charities or associations.
- Interest-free balance transfers.
- Cash back bonuses.
Of all these rewards, it turns out that cash is king. According to one survey, 44% of participants preferred programs that offer rewards such as statement rebates, discounts at various merchants, or gift cards. This is compared to only 14% who prefer points and just 8% who prefer miles. There’s a growing interest in cash back rewards, since a similar survey conducted three years earlier indicated that only 26% of participants preferred such programs.
Perhaps the most visible example of this reward category was offered by Citi in 2011. The bank offered $450 to $500 cash back to new cardholders. To receive the money, cardholders had to spend $2,000 in the first three months of owning the card (for $450) or $3,000 in the first three months (for $500).
Other cash back or cash off incentives include those offered by Target’s REDCard and Lowe’s Consumer Credit Card. Both these cards offer an up front, flat rate 5% discount on eligible purchases. The jcp credit card from J.C. Penney offers 20% off of qualifying purchases at sign up, while Macy’s Card affords customers a 15% discount for all purchases made the day of the application and the following day (up to a total of $100 discount). The CITGO Rewards Card program earns customers five cents-per-gallon credits for fuel purchases at all CITGO locations.
Just because consumers love cold, hard cash (or less tangible, but equally spendable, credits) doesn’t mean that the other reward categories should be ignored. In fact, the opposite is true. All types of rewards can be a compelling argument for consumers to change their credit card affiliation. According to one market research survey, 59% of respondents said they would switch cards to get better rewards.
The bottom line is that market research proves time and time again that it pays to reward your customers. Rewards keep them enrolled and it keep them spending.