Think of a store rewards program as a reciprocal arrangement. In return for visiting the store and buying goods there regularly, you receive a bonus of some sort. In order for the store to know who you are to reward your loyalty, you have to register. Usually, registration is free of charge, but you may have to reveal information about yourself. This can include your phone number, street address, zip code, income, age, e-mail address and information about your general interests or buying habits. Some rewards applications require more information than others.
After providing the required information, you're given a swipe card (or sometimes a member number). The card can be one of those small fob cards that go on a keychain, or look like a credit card and fit snugly in your wallet. Rewards cards can sometimes be lumped into store credit cards, too, and take the form of instant discounts on eligible credit card purchases.
Once you've been supplied with a card, the idea is to present it every time you buy something at that store. As you buy goods, rewards accrue to your personal store rewards account. Purchases can be rewarded a number of ways, depending on the type of program. They can take the form of an immediate discount at the register. Grocery store rewards cards often work this way. Rewards can take the form of points, too. In this type of rewards program, as you buy goods, your cache of points accumulates until you're eligible for something. That something could be a store credit, merchandise, cash or store cash that can be redeemed through a special catalog or even at other venues the retail chain owns.
The specifics can vary from retailer to retailer, but will typically take the form of discounts, freebies or extras when you buy goods from the retailer. Although this sounds simple, the rules can get complicated. They may include annual rebates that pay out at different rates for tiered purchase totals, or offer points but require that they be redeemed for specific merchandise or within a limited timeframe. For many retail programs, rewards can be a great way to save, but know what you're getting into and keep your options open.