Store Credit Cards Spark Celebration

Last weekend my wife and I took the kids to a local department store for a little back-to-school shopping a couple months early. I recently cashed in some very old credit card rewards from a card we paid off recently in exchange for a gift card to a well-known department store. Combined with a 30% store sales flier we figured we could snag a couple deals before school starts at the end of summer.

I consider myself a fairly patient dad when it comes to shopping. During most shopping excursions my son and I take up our post outside the girl’s dressing room and hold “buy” and “put back” merchandise as my wife scurries back and forth from the dressing room to the clothing racks.

During this particular visit I noticed a garbled announcement over the store’s intercom system every few minutes followed by a rowdy cheer from store employees. By the fourth of fifth time I was curious enough (and sufficiently annoyed by the irrational exuberance) to ask a nearby employee what the celebration was about. “We just signed up another credit card,” she replied enthusiastically. My sarcastic reply was, “And why are we celebrating?” She scowled and went back to folding new shirts to put on the store shelves.

After what seemed like half a day my wife and daughter emerged from the dressing room with a reasonable number of new outfits. We put back those that didn’t fit, or were a little too expensive, and made our way to the register. “Attention associates, Julie just signed up her sixth credit card. Only four more and Julie wins the referral contest!” The store immediately erupted with cheers from store associates. Had I entered the debt Twilight Zone or something?

“Would you like to sign up for a (store name shall remain anonymous to protect the not-so-innocent) card today?” No thanks, I replied. “But sir, you can save 10% off today’s purchases in addition to the sales price.” Again, I declined, and this time added, “I don’t shop with credit cards any more, and we’re paying off our remaining card.”

At this point I could see her preparing her final pitch to add another notch in her credit card sign up belt. It would probably sound something like, “If you are approved for the card you can save 10% and then pay if off when the bill arrives.” Sounds logical, I know. However, she failed to tell me if I was just one day late her department store would charge me 24.99% interest for the privilege of using their store card. No thanks.

While I am not totally “anti-credit card,” I’ve grown less and less fond of them over the last few months. It seems like every day there is a new story out about a credit card issuer raising interest rates, lowering credit limits, doubling minimum payment amounts, and other sleazy tactics. I’ve even experienced some of this myself.

Card issuer’s defense is that the impending credit card reform legislation will eat into their profits, so they are merely reacting months in advance to offset those losses. From a profit/loss perspective I get that, but I still believe a credit card company, or store, that wants to retain customers, should show them the same loyalty they ask for in return.

When I was younger I used to work at a variety of retail stores and had to push credit cards to customers. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, and I would despise it today. There is nothing more annoying than a store employee greeting customers at the door with a clipboard filled with credit card applications. I respect stores rights to market their card, but a simple stack of applications at the register would suffice.


  1. I think that cards are getting desperate as well, since the recession has sparked the first decline in household debt since 1980. Credit card debt is on the decline for the first time ever. So, when I see such antics at the store, I just remind myself that they are “forced” into it because more people are being more responsible with their finances.

  2. Must have been a Kohl’s store. I despise shopping there for exactly this reason.

  3. Wow, what a crazy story. It’s fine if they want to pitch the credit cards. I get that, it’s part of their business plan. But to announce it over the loudspeaker every single time? That’s crazy. I think I might have simply ended up leaving the store.

  4. I do admit to having a Macy’s store card because of our wedding registry at Macy’s. Combined with the money back from the registry and the card discount and a coupon, we were able to complete our dishes very cheaply.

    It also came in handy when we bought a living room set for our empty and got an extra 10% off the admittedly already inflated ‘sale’ prices and it allowed us to finance it 12 months at 0% interest. While we were prepared to pay for the furniture outright, we instead used that money to pay off part of our (7% interest) car loan and we’re paying off the furniture monthly.

    Store cards shouldn’t be used to ‘finance’ something you can’t afford, but if you use the card responsibly they can be a useful tool.

  5. And why are stores pushing their credit cards so much? Because they are counting on people to not pay them on time and rack up huge finance charges. Yeah, lovely business plan. Yech.

  6. I believe it is a chain store (not saying who…but Brian may be right) that i just quick working part time at. We were actually told that if we dont get ‘credit’, our hours would be cut. Since I was only working part time on weekends and in a department that didn’t get a lot of foot traffic, getting credit was hard. Also, I absolutely HATED asking customers and would only do so if a manager was within earshot, but, I would only ask once and drop it.

  7. I used to work at a JC Penney’s, and sometimes the management would find it necessary to do that. It does sound exactly like my experience there, and in my opinion is a horrible idea.

    The reason there was announcements and cheering where I worked was because the store has a quota for both credit applications and sales goals set by their district. When the district is having a competition, or the store is simply not making it’s quota, the managers would sometimes set up a reward for the store if they could reach their required goal. I do not know why they think that this is good for sales or encourages customers to want to join in.

    One method that you can use at some stores is the ability to pay off your card at the register. When some stores have a sale I bring along their store card, get the discount, and then pay off the card before leaving the register. If I cannot pay off the card immediately, I simply do not get one.

  8. I used to work at a clothing department store, and had to push credit cards as well. I wasn’t bothered about it as much as others though; one tactic that always seemed to work was to let the customer know we could sign them up, charge the transaction to their new card, but immediately pay off the credit card. Each register was capable of accepting payment, so it was nothing more than an extra minute for each customer. We’d charge it, then they’d give us a check for the exact amount, and we’d pay the card off before they walked away. Not really sure how this benefited the issuing company, but the customer was happy (saved 10% without adding to additional debt), and I was happy (we received “bonuses” for every card we enrolled).

  9. Store credit cards are almost always a terrible idea.

    However, credit cards themselves are valuable tools. I receive hundreds a year in cashback benefits without ever paying a cent in charges.

    Annoying, yes. But worth it and I don’t understand the irrational fears.

  10. It’s sad that store employees are forced to do this, but of course the blame only lies with the consumers who sign up for them. I was dumb enough to fall for that deal when I was younger. Now I live happily with no credit cards at all.

  11. I usually just ask for the 10% discount after I explain I don’t use credit cards for anything.

    Sometimes I even get it.

  12. This is an excellent post!I work for a “big box” store and we have fliers everywhere for the store card. Being in serious debt personally… and experiencing sudden interest increases due to over zealous credit card companies, the fliers make me cringe. Stores need to stop celebrating credit!

  13. Back in the Stone Age when I worked in retail, credit cards were actually little tablets where customers could chisel their signatures. But even then there was a bonus if we talked people into signing up for one.

  14. I just have this image of the Debt Demon wringing his hands & smiling as he snares another poor person in his lair of debt…….

  15. Hmm ringing a bell for new cards seems a little obnoxious, but personally I have nothing against store credit cards. I have signed up a few when I had some really expensive purchases and the discounts came in handy

  16. Weird that they would be announcing it.
    Sorry for the poor clerks who have to push them when they might not want to.

  17. My usual response is “I have a credit card – I just don’t care to use it.” Usually shuts them up, as they have no clue if I have theirs, or just another one, and it’s really not their business anyway.

  18. Every store we go in these days makes the standard “Do you have a credit card with us–you’ll save 10% on every purchase”. But not with the used car sales pitch you’re describing. We say no to all of it.

    What a parallel, my son and I play the same roll (changing room attendants) to my wife and daughter at department stores. It might be my least favorite husband/father role.

    This is a bit off topic, but speaking of back to school shopping, check out thrift stores. You can walk out with a couple of bags full of clothing for about the cost of a nice shirt at a department store.

    We didn’t use to be “thrift store people” but now we kick ourselves for thinking that way. Our kids love it because if they find something they like they never hear “no, it’s too expensive” from us.

    It’s amazing the condition the clothing are in, some people ditch their clothes after very little use. It works really well for childrens clothing since they burn through them so quickly.

    Goodwill stores are a good place to start. And it’s guaranteed they won’t hassle you to take their credit card 🙂

  19. Great post. I can sooo relate to this quote: “During most shopping excursions my son and I take up our post outside the girl’s dressing room and hold “buy” and “put back” merchandise as my wife scurries back and forth from the dressing room to the clothing racks.” My wife listens to us maybe 30% of the time! Just discovered your blog, great stuff.

  20. I had an in-store card for a shop here in england and went on a “SPREE” I was tempted with the opening offer 10% off on my purchases that day. I maxed the thing and it took me years to pay it off. finaly I did. I am still asked when I go to stores would I like one and they always seem astounded when I refuse out right.The only thing I have now is a debit card there useful to have and if you dont have the money you dont have the goodies.

  21. My daughter quit her job at American Eagle because of the asinine requirement to sign up as many customers as possible to the store credit card. Get this, their HOURS were actually determined by HOW MANY credit card applications they got the customers to fill out. The more apps, the more hours they got to work, the fewer apps they got, the fewer hours. Pathetic that corporations resort to this sort of blackmail of their employees just to be able to earn more money. My daughter says, “are we selling clothes or debt here, people??”

  22. Can you all stand a contrary opinion here?

    The aggressive way the stores are marketing their credit cards ARE a pain in the butt, to us as customers and to the employees who suddenly need to promote them as part of their jobs.

    But lost in our irritation is the reason why this is happening. The stores are promoting the credit cards because the more customers hold their cards, the more sales they’ll ring up.

    Credit cards not only increase sales for the merchant, but they also lock in loyalty (“I have a credit card at XXXX Stores, let’s buy it there”). This method has been proven over time and accross industries. A clear cut example is dealer financing with cars; the availability of financing facilitates sales.

    I guess what I’m saying is that while we find this irritating, let’s not lose site of the fact that these stores are just trying to SURVIVE–and we do need to respect that.

    I don’t know if anyone else is experiencing this, but we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of door-to-door sales people showing up in our neck of the woods. Now I know a lot of people find this practice irritating as well, but it’s just people trying to survive, and again, we don’t have to like it, but we do need to respect it.

    The times are hard and people and businesses are doing what they can to survive. As distasteful as the methods may be, it is nonetheless a noble pursuit. One day any one of us could be the peddler behind knock at the door or the person behind the counter hawking a store credit card, so we should make some attempt at empathy.

  23. There has to be a better way to survive than by exploiting people and punishing employees to force them to do something contrary to their ethics.

    I personally just say “no” to 10%-off credit card offers, although if I’m making a major purchase, such as an appliance, I will try to get the one-year-no-interest deal. This is so that I can keep my money in an interest-bearing account for 11 months, rather than forking it over directly.

    Didn’t know you could pay a credit-card transaction at the register at the time you make the charge. That might be worth it if you had to buy a lot of back-to-school clothing. The problem is, of course, every time you take out a credit card it temporarily dings your credit rating.

    If that kind of aggressive tactic annoyed me as much as some folks apparently are annoyed, I would walk out without buying anything. I powerfully dislike being hustled, and I also dislike the way some lower-end department stores assume that if you’re shopping there you must be a thief. I don’t buy in stores that annoy me. If fewer people put up with that kind of b.s., fewer stores would inflict it on us.

  24. Maybe we need to politely ask to talk to the manager when we are confronted aggressively with these come ons, and let the manager know how we feel.

    Don’t give me the bull about the manager is only doing what they are pushed to by corporate, consumers being too polite about it for too long is how we got to this point in the 1st place. Elevate it as high as you feel comfortable and fill out their surveys, you will have to write it in the comments, since sales people will never ask questions on a survey that aren’t designed to lead you in the direction they are hoping to take.

    The problem is it has become socially acceptable to sell things you don’t agree with to make a living. It is the same as saying “I was only stealing to feed my family.”

  25. I am a retail manager at a store that offers an in-store credit card. We are all more than aware that sometimes it can get really annoying. However what is also annoying is when customers are armed with the wrong information or are down right rude. To begin most stores are not their own financial institution so they outsource their credit cards (this who gets $$ if you accrue finance charges) Also a lot of stores, mine included, offer you the option to make payments immediately in store to avoid interest and offer no annual fee (ever), most now offer reward “points” that get you basically a store credit as a thank you. Stores are trying to gain your loyalty and save a little money (they have to pay higher fees for credit and debit cards), which when you think about it isn’t bad business!

  26. I do not disdain my attempt to offer my customer a credit app, nor do I denegrate myself to being a hustler for doing so, I am proud of my store’s amazing discounts on merchandise and am very enthusiastic when I can offer an additional discount for signing up for our store charge card which, at our stores, charges no monthly or yearly fee for its use.It is with respect that I defer to their ability to accept or decline my offer to join the legions of other satisfied Kohls card holders.