Retailers Launching Their Own Stimulus Plans to Bring in Shoppers

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Forget the Fed, retailers are getting creative when it comes to stimulating sales. Barring any kind of nationally-funded stimulus plan, stores are coming up with their own, offering discounts, contests, cash back and even a loan, should you qualify.

Big Box Retailers Are Giving a Little Cash Back to Shoppers

Kmart and its sister company Sears are rewarding members of its "Shop Your Way" program with 10 points for every dollar spent in stores and online. Points can then be redeemed for various designated items and services, like oil changes, says a Kmart spokeswoman. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, continues to open Money Centers in stores that offer some traditional banking services to customers who the company refers to as the "unbanked" -- mainly those who don't have debit cards or credit cards and are likely to rely on checks and cash to pay for goods and services.
For its part, Target plans on giving shoppers 5% off purchases made with a Target Visa Credit Card, Target Credit Card or Target Check Card, a debit product. "We have not yet announced the exact launch date of our new 5% benefit," a Target spokeswoman told Walletpop. "We have said the program will launch this fall, before the holiday season. We believe this new program will drive profitable retail sales and enhance guest loyalty."

Sam's Club Doles Out Loans and Opens Its Doors to Everyone

Sam's Club began offering small business loans earlier this month through a partnership with Superior Financial Group, The program is currently in testing, but has already had more than 200 applicants and close to half have been approved, according to Sam's Club spokeswoman Susan Koehler. Loans of between $5,000 and $25,000 are being made available to qualifying members. Additionally, Sam's Club members are getting lower interest rates from Superior, and $100 off the application fee.

According to another Sam's Club spokeswoman, the loan program is focused on "Main Street minority, women and veteran-owned small business owners, as well as micro-entrepreneurs." But it's also a way to get money to its customer base: of the 47 million Sam's Club members, a little less than half are small business owners who spend disproportionately more than individual members. A little more than half of the revenue comes from small business, Koehler told Walletpop. "We estimate about 600,000 small business and related entities and people shop each day in (our) 595 clubs in the U.S.," she says. These members are reporting difficulty not only staying in business, but with getting financing and stocking supplies.

Sam's Club is doing more than doling out cash. It's established earlier hours for small business and premium members every day and launched a new coupon program called eValues that gives premium or "Plus" members electronic coupons of up to $300 in value each year. In an effort to attract new members, the warehouse club will also open its doors to non-members on August 6th through 8th, allowing them to shop during store hours without paying the annual premium. It has also begun offering a new service called "Click 'N' Pull" that lets members shop online and pick up at the store the following day, as long as the order is complete before 5 p.m. the evening before. It's similar to Kmart's Mygofer, which lets you shop online and pick up at a nearby Kmart store just two hours later.

Office Supply Stores Offering Sizable Discounts and Rebates

Not all retailers are doling out cash, but many more are embarking on some pretty aggressive promotions. In advance of the back-to-school sales season, office supply stores are ramping up special deals. Staples is offering items for $1 each in its "7 Day Savings Event," which ends on July 17. OfficeMax is staggering promotions throughout the end of summer to coincide with individual school district starts, and using loyalty program reward points to deliver savings.

But Office Depot is perhaps the most aggressive of the office supply retailers. Spokesman Jason Shockley told Walletpop via email that the store is giving bonus rewards to members of its loyalty program, recently offering 100% back in rewards on everyday supplies including water, pads of paper, plastic storage, pens, batteries and binders, and 50% back in rewards on all case paper and copies from the copy and print depot.

Toys R Us Gets a Head Start on the Holidays
Toys R Us has already rolled out holiday programs. Its Christmas Savers Club lets shoppers set up a savings account and add to the balance in stores. A 3% reward bonus (up to $75) will be added on October 16 and you can start paying for purchases from the account on October 31. Additionally, the toy retailer is already celebrating Christmas in July with summer deals and promotions like a $20 gift card with the purchase of a Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board.

Programs like these may not be enough to get shoppers back into stores with any force, but they can help defray expenses for some of the harder pressed consumers, especially small business owners and parents dreading back to school time. Now if only stores like Sears and Best Buy came up with their own appliance rebate programs, those proved so popular that allocated funds were gone in hours.
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