Loyalty cards in Japan thicken wallets but lack in payoffs

By Aonghas Crowe

I'm standing at the checkout counter of my local Family Mart when the young woman working the cash register asks if I have a T-Point card.

“I do, indeed,” I tell her.

I pull out an inch-thick stack of loyalty cards from my wallet and start rifling through them.

Nopenopenope . . . Not this one . . . Ah, here it isOops — wrong konbini (convenience store). Got it.

I hand her a T-Point card I got from the Asics shop a few years back. When she scans it, the cash register chimes: “Be sure to check your receipt to confirm how many points you have accumulated.”

“Yeah, right,” I grumble under my breath. Whenever I do check, I’m usually disappointed. The T-Point card doesn’t quite invoke the sense of loyalty as does, say, the flimsy paper card from Mother Nature’s Osteopathy. Each visit to the seikotsuin (osteopathic clinic) earns you one stamp. If it’s raining, they’ll give you an extra stamp. Collect 10 stamps and they’ll knead your aching back for free! Mother Nature’s often does a lousy job, but that point keeps me coming back again and again for more shiatsu agony.

Why so many point cards?

The truth be told, I sometimes wonder if the cause of my back pain isn’t that wad of loyalty cards I schlep around. It’s gotten so bad, that I had to purchase an extra folder to take care of the overflow.

According to a survey conducted by the infographic site Zunny (Japanese), Japanese people possess on average 20.9 cards, 10.7 of which they keep in their wallets. At 92 percent, the most commonly carried one is, not surprisingly, a credit card. (Interesting, when you consider that only two decades ago very few people in Japan used plastic.) That dubious T-Point card of mine is a close second with almost 90 percent claiming they had one in their wallet. Just over 82 percent surveyed said they had their Ponta Card on them, while 79 percent took their supermarket card with them wherever they went. The Nanaco card was fifth at 77.7 percent. Among the remaining top 10 cards were drugstore cards (76.5 percent), WAON (73.2 percent), Rakuten Point Card (71.1 percent), WAON Point Card (70.5 percent) and Rakuten Edy (67.2 percent).

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© GaijinPot

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Its the same thinking as when going to Costo's. In the west we might grab the odd free taster, but here its almost law to queue for a free sample.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The author  usually has enough points/miles to treat the whole family to a domestic trip at least once a year and yet the headline says the cards lack in payoffs!?! I should be so unlucky.

And why in the world, if he has a daily Family Mart habit does he have to be reminded by the clerk to present his T-point card, holding up the line while searching for it?

6 ( +6 / -0 )


You speaketh the truth! Especially around Christmas at the Hiroshima location. Sheer MADNESS!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I got rid of all but one, Yodobashi camera, coz that's where I get my camera lenses if I buy them brand new. As well as other minor electronics. The rest of the cards I threw them away because they're just making my wallet fat.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The only card that is giving me tons of points is the yodobashi camera goldpoint creditcard card and rakuten is not so bad either but yeah the T-card is a waste of space. Nice article btw.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Agreed that Yodobashi Camera is a real nice point card to have. If I don’t buy my electronics online I go there for the points.

Other than that stamp cards to my favorite foods and restaurants are good.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A waste of time. In return the shops get a free and detailed analysis of your purchasing habits and budget, as well as personal details.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The yodobashi card has a phone app now, no point keeping the card in your wallet. Also means you can log into the same app on your wife's phone and have her accumulating the points for you as well. This point program is indispensable because it earns 10% points to your purchases. You can try to bargain a 10% discount on the product in lieu of the points, but its rarely successful, so if you do not have this point program you are overpaying at Yodobashi.

The 1% return on purchases that you get on every other point program really isnt worth the effort. Is the 15 seconds you spend on finding the point card, handing it over, having the teller read it in, then hand it back and you putting it back in your stack of cards... worth the 5 yen you just 'earned' on your lunch purchase? To me the answer is a definite no. Lets say you do that every work day for a year (5 days a week, 52 weeks a year): You earn 1300 yen, but you also used up over 1hr of your time on that damn card. My time is worth more than that.

Credit card points, while also usually only 1% return, are different; they accumulate automatically. There is no fumbling of cards or reading of the barcode or holding up the line at the cash register.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

No Yodobashi here but I use two, Yamada and Joshin for electronic buys but these days I use Amazon mostly. Life uses a bunch for shopping including Sogo which gives extra points when its your birthday month. I guess those cards save use more than ¥10,000 per year.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Zichi, i imagine that you are using it for fairly large purchases. 10,000 Yen a year at 1% points return means over 1m yen worth of purchases. Maybe you do a lot more in the birthday month where they might give you 2-3%

Anyway, pulling out a points card to earn 50 yen on a grocery total is a bit different to pulling out the t-point card to get your 1 yen for the 100 yen gum you purchased. This is only about the effort to reward ratio. I count T-point, and Ponta as the worst of these point card programs, because they are used for the mundane small purchases so much.

But as Luddite pointed out "If you are not paying for it, then you are the product". Ponta and T-Point know exactly what you buy and where, all for a yen here a yen there. You are worth more than that...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I always use the Yodobashi point card (and kudos to afanofjapan for the app mention), but I think it's also worth pointing out (haa-haa!) that Yodobashi seems to mark up their prices compared to other electronics stores, sometimes as much as 10%. So it's not so much a discount card, as it is a pay-the-non-inflated-price card.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The T-Point card is good for paying the stray, for example, 3 yen or 17 yen when the total at Family Mart or Jonathan's etc. is something like 303 yen or 4,017 yen. Saves you getting all that shrapnel as change. Only Jonathan's staff seem to ask if I'd like to actually USE some points.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My sympathies are with the beleaguered store clerks who now have to ask every single customer if they have one of these silly point cards, over and over, all day long. That's a miserable enough job as it is without this extra step.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I've got a Yodobashi card and a Yamada points card. The 10% at Yodobashi is good but my best deal on points was when I bought my new computer from Yamada. I'm not sure what reason but I was given 15% on approx 200,000 yen, and the computer itself was already discounted.

@katsu78 - one thing I've noticed about Yodobashi is most prices seem to be near exact to Bic Camera. Some things are a little different but most things are the same. Primary ticket price at Yodobashi is tax inclusive but the primary ticket price at Bic Camera is always less because it excludes tax. At least the stores I visit seem to be this way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I gave up on those things in Japan.

My local SupaaaCentaaaaa had a point card that I would get scanned until the day I asked what the perk was:

500 yen off once I hit 150,000 yen in purchases. Well woopidy do.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's the same with casino players cards. If you are a regular player and gamble often, it's useless to do it for the sake of getting a comp (room, meal, drink, show, gift), because you'll be wagering 10-20x more than what that item/service would cost you to pay for it on your own. But if you'd be gambling anyway, whether there are comps or not, then it's better to use the card because they will add up and in time, by doing that thing you would be doing anyway - you'll end up getting something back.

Not gonna visit Lawson daily just to earn points. But if I find myself at the same stores often because it's convenient or my fave store - use the card(s) and wait a few months or end of year and it adds up.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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