Head into the mall this holiday season, and you won’t just be bombarded by 50 percent off signs or two-for-one deals. Once you hit the cash register, someone is bound tempt you with more deals if you sign up for text messages, credit cards and other goodies.
The other day a clerk seemed ready to snatch the cellphone out of my purse just so I wouldn’t miss out on all those supposedly secret sales. She reluctantly rang up my $15 purchase, disheartened that I did not sign up for text messages. I declined, as my budget could not survive a ping from a clothing store every day or week.
The pitch this holiday season is to get you hyper-connected to a store, restaurant or credit card. It’s a two-way street. Some discounts may be worth a little extra annoyance.
“I’m prepared to sacrifice my privacy for a good bargain, if it’s relevant,” said Nick Holland, senior payments analyst $10 e-gift card from Walmart.com.
“They’re going after people buying gifts,” said Tyler Felous, head of products at Wisely, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based personal finance and shopping startup.
Retailers get a handle on how to sell you more gifts and stuff, too, either online or at physical stores.
“They want to be able to throw you the right promotions,” said Holland. “It’s about closing the loop.”
For consumers, one risk is that the deals could get you to spend more than you realize.
You might plan to pay off a large purchase before the limited 0 percent offer expires on the new credit card opened to buy the item, said Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com.
But what if you do not get that big tax refund as soon as you expect and the money doesn’t arrive in time to pay off that TV in full? Then, you could be paying a very high interest rate that may be charged from the date of purchase. Some cards could have regular rates of 25 percent or so.
Some consumers swear that the best way to track their spending is to use cash.
Others only put their purchases on one credit card or one debit card, just to carefully watch on the total amount they’re spending each month.
But make no mistake: Plenty of consumers are being tempted by store discounts for signing up for yet another credit card.
“Some retailers are stepping up with some strong offers,” said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com in Birmingham, Ala., a website that provides credit card information for consumers.
Amazon, for example, is offering a $30 Amazon.com gift card for new cardholders who sign up for the Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card from Chase. The Amazon cardholder would receive 3 points for every $1 spent on Amazon, 2 points for every $1 spent at drugstores, gas stations and restaurants, and 1 point for every $1 spent everywhere else. The points are year-round, not limited to the holiday.
Trey Loughran, president of Equifax Personal Solutions, said new data show that consumers are charging more items on credit cards issued by retailers.
Across all but six of the top 25 metro areas, bankcard balances were flat or declining in the third quarter this year, while retail card balances went up in all 25 markets, according to Equifax.
Some consumers with less-than-perfect credit records may find it easier to open a credit card at a store than to put more debt on a bank card.
Others could be opening up retail cards to receive a 0 percent deal for the next six or nine months, if they open a credit card when they buy a big-ticket item.
“Consumers are being a lot more deliberate and careful about thinking about how they take on that debt,” Loughran said.
Given all the holiday deals out there, consumers need to get the message about how much it can really cost to sign up for texts or credit cards, too.