I am at Fujiya, our local cake place, choosing which cake to eat for dessert tonight. I make my choice and take out the money for this purchase.
The lady pauses for a moment before she rings up my order. She seemed to be waiting for something.
And then, “Do you have your point card?”
Oh! Whoops! With an embarrassed laugh, I whip it out of my wallet.
“Of course, I do.”
She knows I have one, of course, since we live right next door and we often come here, too. We’ve known each other for years. Usually, I’m vigilant about these things, but I forgot about it today.
If you live in Japan, most stores will have members cards, point cards, or stamp cards for customers. Now, it only really makes sense to get one of these things if you frequent the store enough, or make purchases that will give you cash back on huge amounts: think furniture or electronics.
Other than that, there’s no point collecting these cards because it will just make a mess in your wallet.
Some things to think about:
Do you frequent the store often?
I guess this one is common sense. If you don’t go to the store often enough, you won’t be needing a card. Think about grocery stores, coffee shops, book stores, drug stores, and even convenience stores. Basically, any place that you’ll be visiting at least once a week.
I know there are many kinds of each store, but that also requires a decision on its own. Do you get a point card for all the drug stores, or just get it for the one you use most often?
For example, there are four major convenience stores in Hokkaido: Lawson, Seven-Eleven, Seicomart, and Family Mart. I only have a point card for Lawson because their Ponta card is also used at Geo for video rentals and the gas station Shell. I can accumulate and use points that way. Even though I do go to the other convenient stores, I don’t really need their cards.
If you teach at a coffee shop other than Starbucks, you might want to think about getting the coffee shop’s stamp card if they have one because you’ll be there often enough. You’ll usually get a discount on the coffee price, or get a free coffee once you complete the card.
If you don’t go frequently, are you thinking of making a big purchase?
Think expensive electronics and furniture. I have all three of the point cards for the major electronic shops in Japan: BicCamera, Yodobashi Camera, Yamada Denki, and K’s Denki. I just think it’s worth it. These stores usually give you ¥1 or 1 point per ¥100 you spend. If you make a purchase that is over ¥10,000, you’ll get ¥100 in credits for your next purchase.
More often than not, they’ll have promotions that will give you more than 1%, sometimes up to 20%. I keep a lookout for these deals whenever I’m thinking of buying any type of appliance. Our DVD player/TV recorder broke down last month. We ended up buying a Blue Ray recorder for ¥45,000. They had a 10% point campaign so we got ¥4,500 worth of points–that’s quite a tidy sum of money!
Plus, you can use your card anywhere in Japan.
Is it free? Are there any fees?
Be careful with this one, especially for department stores because they tend to be pushing their credit cards on customers all the time, which requires an annual free. Some grocery stores operate the same way. In general, though, most stores don’t require you to pay them to use points.
If you find out find out about the fees, just say no to these cards. Why pay the extra money to get the “discounts”? There’s no point. (See what I did there? Wink, wink.)
What do you get for completing the stamps?
So point cards are fairly simple. You get points that equate to ¥1, but stamp cards are different. It can mean a discount on your next order, if it’s a restaurant. Either that or a free drink, a side dish, or a free meal. I use the stamp card regularly at the coffee shop because every time I fill up the card, I get a free coffee.
We used to have a stamp card for the Fujiya next door. For every ¥500 you get a stamp. So two pieces of cake earned us a stamp all the time. Once you fill up your stamp card, you can exchange them for a ¥500 coupon or stuff like cushions, mugs, or bags. If you like getting things, that’s another reason to get the card.
How are the points/stamps earned and used?
Be careful with this one. Most stores are upfront; you can use the points to discount your purchase. Some aren’t as straightforward. For the Tsuruha Drug Store point card, you need to earn 500 points first, and then they’ll print out a coupon for you to use in the future. So if you have 320 points earned, you cannot use it to get ¥320 yen. You have to keep spending money at the store to keep earning points and get to 500.
Are you a vigilant person?
By this, I mean, are you going to actually use your points? Because sometimes these points will expire–just like airline miles. Most of the time, stamp cards have a one year span for use. Same with point cards.
Some people like to save their points until they’ve accumulated big chunks and then spend it. Some people are the opposite, they’ll spend the points, no matter how small it is on the next purchase at the same store.
I think both are good, but you just need to be on top of these things.
Also, be aware that sometimes, having a point card for the store means you’ll be spending more money than you need to–just to earn points/stamps. In that way, it’s not really much of a discount. You’d be better served by not spending your money in the first place. But, if you need to make the purchase, it makes sense to accumulate points.
Are there any equivalent store apps?
You can tell I’m not very tech savvy. But most of the stores have their own apps that you can use to earn points, get discounts, or get special deals. These things are always an option instead of having the physical card in your wallet. However, these apps, especially if they’re Japanese stores, won’t always be available to be downloaded in your home country’s iTunes/Google Play store. Since my account is linked to the US App store, I can’t download any of the Japan-specific stores, unfortunately.
You can see from the above photo that there is no downloadable version of BicCamera for the US App store. They have a Uniqlo app, though, but not the Japanese version.
That’s it in a nutshell. I think there’s some merit to using point cards, especially in places where you often go. You probably won’t be able to escape the store clerks asking you every where you go, anyway, so think about it.