Wherever you’re from, it’s doubtful customer loyalty cards are a novel concept. In Japan, however, they’re everywhere. While a few carry a small initial fee, most of them are free. It’s tempting to get one at every store you frequent — like I have — but if you’re not careful, you’ll soon find your wallet bulging with them.
Loyalty cards come in a few varieties, but they all serve the same function: To make it more appealing to shop at that store. The most common type earns you one point per X円 you spend, which can be spent at a rate of one point = 1円. You can use the point-earning cards to offset costs, even out change so your pocket isn’t loaded with 1円 coins, or even unusual purposes (see below for examples). Other cards give you stamps; most of those can be cashed in for a discount once you reach a certain number of stamps, while others give a cumulative benefit (e.g. one bonus/discount at five stamps, another after five more, etc). These have more obvious and immediate benefits. A few cards have their own sets of rules, such as being upgradable.
If you don’t want too many of these, then I recommend at least picking up a T-Point Card and a Ponta Card (which can be used in a wide variety of places), cards for your most-used grocery, electronics, and furniture/home goods stores, and any available for your favorite restaurants. (Remember, you don’t have to carry all of them all the time.) Otherwise, I recommend getting any free point cards you run across, and any paid cards at stores you use often enough to make it worth your while. Carry the ones you commonly use and leave the rest at home, only taking them out when you know you’ll use them. (I bought a cheap card case to hold my seldom-used cards.) If you happen to forget your card, many places will allow you to register a new one, then merge the two at a later date, meaning you won’t lose your points.
For some examples of the above, allow me to list a selection of my own customer loyalty cards:
- Bic Camera/Yodobashi Camera/Matsumoto Kiyoshi Card (e.g.): Basic point-earning cards usable at their respective stores.
- T-Point Card: Point-earning card usable at Tsutaya, Family Mart, Lotteria, and many other places.
- Ponta Card: Point-earning card usable at Lawson, HMV/HMV.com, KFC, and many other places. Points also usable at Sega game centers to get free crane-game credits.
- Rakuten Super Point Card: Relatively-new point-earning card usable at Circle K, Sunkus, Pepper Lunch, and the online shop Rakuten, as well as any other Rakuten holdings.
- Nanaco Card: Chargeable/point-earning IC card usable at 7-11, Ito Yokado, and other 7&i Holdings. Also works as a standard IC card. Once charged with money, earns points when used at 7&i stores (meaning you can have both points and yen on the card).
- Gee! Store Card: Stamp card that grants a 500円 discount when filled.
- Pepper Lunch Card: Since Pepper Lunch is a franchise, not all locations offer stamp cards, and those that do only tend to honor their own cards. The Akihabara GIGO location has no stamp card, while the location in Kinshichou does. What Pepper Lunch does offer is a free soft-drink coupon usable at your next visit. These coupons never expire, can be used at any location, and will be immediately replaced before your meal arrives. This means that as long as you don’t lose the coupon, you will always get a free drink at Pepper Lunch from your second visit on. (Also see above re: Rakuten.)
- Beef Mileage Card: Usable at Ikinari Steak. Tracks the number of grams of steak used on it. Base card gives a 500円 coupon on the user’s birthday. Upgrades at 3000g to Gold, granting an immediate 1000円 coupon, a 300g rib roast steak on your birthday, and a free soft drink each visit. Upgrades again at 20,000g to Platinum, granting an immediate 3000円 coupon, 300g of any steak on your birthday, and one drink (including alcohol) per visit. Upgrades one final time at 100,000g to Diamond, granting an immediate 10,000円 coupon, a pair of 300g steaks for your birthday, and a free drink (as above) each visit.
- Gyoza Club Card: Usable at Gyouza no Oushou. Starts as a stamp card; when the paper card is full, you exchange it for a plastic one that grants a permanent 5% discount on every visit thereafter.
- DYNAC Group Net Card: Usable at any restaurant or bar within the DYNAC Group (a holding of Suntory). Usually earns at a rate of 1円＝1 point, but there are frequent bonuses (online registration, double-point seasons, etc). At 3000 points, generates a coupon worth 3240円 (that is, 3000円 plus current tax of 8%), good for one use at any DYNAC location.