Bag yourself a rewarding relationship: How to get shopping for free – by using the best of the retail mobile apps
Handouts: Companies gain a valuable insight into the habits of customers who use apps
Tens of thousands of M&S customers have picked up their shopping for free in the past year – the equivalent of half a dozen people every hour.
The handouts don’t come from a wealthy benefactor. They are gifted at random by the store itself – a cheerful surprise delivered at the checkout for those with a digital Sparks card on M&S’s mobile phone app.
It has been nearly a year since M&S relaunched its loyalty card scheme. The revamp last July replaced a physical card and points-based system with instant rewards and treats offered via its digital alternative.
Since then, one customer per store has had their shopping paid for them each week.
One couple struck lucky at a checkout in Milton Keynes with furniture worth £3,400 for their new home.
And more than 3.5million new customers have scrambled to join Sparks since its transformation. A free shop can also be bestowed at an online checkout.
Customers can also find personalised offers and discounts in their Sparks accounts.
Nearly five million freebies have also been given away – including 72,000 fresh avocados, 170,000 apothecary candles and 1.5million packets of the shop’s famous Percy Pig sweets.
But M&S customers aren’t the only ones who can cut the cost of shopping with an app. There is a growing trend for this kind of reciprocal relationship between retailers and shoppers.
Companies gain a valuable insight into the habits of customers, who in turn pay less for shopping and receive freebies along the way.
Nectar gives personalised offers to Sainsbury’s customers via its app – and claims users typically earn three times the number of points compared to using a loyalty card the traditional way.
Points can be spent on different perks, including cutting the cost of a food shop.
Oli Townsend, assistant deals and features editor at website MoneySavingExpert, says: ‘Whether it’s free food you’re after, or an extra discount – there are plenty of apps for shopping deals.
‘Some phone networks offer rewards for their customers via apps – such as Vodafone’s VeryMe and O2’s Priority. The offers change regularly, but we’ve seen perks such as free coffee and chocolate, along with discounts on beauty products.’
The ClickSnap app from cashback website Quidco pays customers to buy groceries from a supermarket. Customers need only choose an offer from the app and upload a receipt showing the item. Cashback is paid into their Quidco account, which can then be transferred to a bank account.
Shopmium and CheckoutSmart apps work in a similar way.
According to CheckoutSmart, its members earn £50 a year on average, while the most dedicated fans receive more than £500 a year.
There are also give-aways to pick up from local supermarkets via the app. For example, members can grab free snacks with McCain’s Brew City range on the days when UK home nations are playing in the UEFA European Football Championship.
Ricky Willis, editor of the Skint Dad website, says: ‘Shopping apps on the whole won’t save you a fortune, but regular use cuts the cost of shopping.
‘One of my favourites is Shoppix. You take a photo of your receipt, upload it to the app, and are rewarded with a choice of Love2Shop, Amazon or iTunes vouchers – or you can cash out into a PayPal account.’
When using these apps, MoneySavingExpert’s Townsend advises checking you have picked up the correct product in store – ensuring flavour or size is an exact match, for example – and remembering to keep hold of the receipt so you can upload a photo of it.
YOU CAN GET CHEAPER FOOD WHILE CUTTING WASTE
It is possible to pick up cheaper takeaway food using an app – and cut down on food waste.
MoneySavingExpert’s Oli Townsend says: ‘The app Too Good To Go connects you to local cafes, bakeries and restaurants, which have leftover food at the end of the day. You can buy the food for between £2 and £4, at a discount of at least 50 per cent – some by as much as 90 per cent.’
Free sharing app Olio links you to people in your neighbourhood giving away surplus food for free, rather than dumping it in the bin. Alternatively, rather than cutting the cost of grocery spending, you can use shopping to cut the cost of your mobile phone bill.
The Airtime Rewards app does just this. Shoppers link a debit or credit card to an app account, and earn discounts on their mobile bill when they shop. It works at high street brands, including Boots, Greggs and Primark.