Consumers typically scan their online checking and credit-card-account statements just to see what they've spent. But these days a closer look may turn up some great opportunities to save -- or more enticements to shop.
Banks have long arranged special deals and discounts for cardholders, delivered through emails, brochures and special online promo pages. But increasingly, customized offers based on consumers' spending habits are appearing via links in online checking and credit-card statements. They're potentially valuable, with promotions of as much as half off. "It seems that everyone is getting in the Groupon business," says Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
Bank of America recently announced it was testing a program called BankAmeriDeals, which lets customers click on an in-statement link -- say, for 10% off at a favorite retailer -- to claim the offer on their account. After their next purchase with that merchant, they'll receive a credit on their statement for the value of the deal. "Our customers told us they want to save money at the places where they shop," says Bank of America spokeswoman Tara Burke. "This is easy and there's no coupon clipping."
Cardlytics, the company managing retailer offers for BankAmeriDeals, also administers programs for PNC Bank, Regions Bank and nearly 200 smaller financial institutions. A competing firm, Truaxis, runs programs at more than 2,000 local and regional banks. And Citibank has offers for in-house services like price-tracker Price Rewind, as well as deals from partner merchants. "From time to time we offer our clients promotions that deliver more ways to get value when using their Citi card," says a spokeswoman.
Of course, these programs are a good deal for banks, too. They can count on money from the partnerships and customers using their cards more, says Paul Stephens, the director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "Banks are facing revenue challenges as a result of recent legislation and the consumer backlash against fees on debit cards," he says. In-statement deals could alleviate some of that. Retailers, too, could benefit, since claiming a deal requires an extra purchase, often of a set amount or greater. If users aren't careful, "this ultimately could result in more spending than saving," says Yarrow. Here are some tips for getting the best deals.
Combining coupons and sales is a tried-and-true way to save. Experts say in-statement rewards could let shoppers add an extra level. Because such rewards are processed after a sale through a third-party company, merchants can't easily add restrictive terms, says Lynne Laube, president and co-founder of Cardlytics. They usually are unable to exclude sale items, for example, or stipulate that consumers use either the account statement offer or a coupon, but not both. Shoppers can also choose their most rewards-rich card to link an offer to if they have multiple accounts with the same bank, Laube says. The catch: stores may offer less-valuable deals, or none at all, when there's a big sale in progress. Merchants can also vary offers, sending say, a 50% off deal to a first-time customer but a skimpier 10% to a weekly bargain hunter.
"Perpetual offers are our enemies when it comes to saving," says Yarrow. In-statement rewards could prove just one more push for an unnecessary purchase. She suggests taking advantage of banks' opt-out for such programs, turning on the offers only when you're in the market for something from the list of partner merchants. Most programs also have a mobile component, making it relatively easy to hunt down and claim a deal on the spot, instead of seeing the deals pop up when reviewing a web statement, says Dennis Moroney, a research director at Tower Group. But there's some risk of missing a deal. Most financial institutions require shoppers to actively claim an in-statement reward before a purchase for the deal to be applied. An exception: Ally Bank's Ally Perks automatically redeems offers that customers qualify for.
Check privacy policies
Programs typically promise that merchants won't have access to any of your personal information. "Customer data never leaves the bank," says Cardlytics' Laube. A spokeswoman for Truaxis says the same. The companies and their merchant partners only know that a set number of bank customers met an offer requirement or redeemed a deal. Nonetheless, it's still worthwhile to read over the bank's privacy statement to see how it plans to use any data gleaned from seeing which offers you pick, says Stephens. "Obviously, your bank already has a tremendous amount of information about you," he says. "Any time you click through to an offer tied to a database that you're already logged into, how is that information going to be shared?" Nervous customers, of course, can always opt out.