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It’s not something for nothing, but it’s certainly something for something: Looking to squeeze every available benefit from every purchase, US shoppers are turning more than ever to loyalty programs to stretch their budgets, says a survey by Colloquy.

Some 44.4% of women respondents ages 25 to 49 indicated a greater participation in loyalty programs, a 29% increase over a similar survey the company conducted in 2007. It also outstrips the 32% overall population response, the survey says. And a greater number than before

“We’ve definitely seen some consolidation in retail programs,” said Colloquy Editorial Director Rick Ferguson, a co-author (with Colloquy Partner Kelly Hlavinka) of white paper titled, “After the Meltdown: Consumer Attitudes and Perceptions About Loyalty Programs in the Post-Recession Economy” that summarizes the survey.

Cincinnati-based consultancy Colloquy completed 2,152 online interviews in April 2009, asking shoppers their level of active participation in loyalty programs and where their actions were concentrated. Despite the recession, overall consumer participation in loyalty programs has jumped 19% in the US since 2007. All population segments (general population, affluent, young adults, core women, seniors, and emerging Hispanics) reported increasing participation in loyalty programs over the company’s 2007 survey.

In addition, the survey notes that while participation by the general population in loyalty programs rose 19% since last measured prior to the recession in 2007, the increase for women over the past two years was significantly higher at 29%, topped only by young adults (32%).

And these shoppers are looking to retail to help their dollars go further: travel programs saw the biggest decline in active participation, down 31% from 2007. For example, gas rewards from grocers have increased recently, a response to high fuel prices last year.

“Though it doesn’t add up to much, it makes you feel like you’re getting something,” Ferguson said.

In fact, retail rewards were more important to respondents than to other major industry categories. Nearly half of respondents (46.4%) noted that participating in a retail rewards program was more important during a recession, compared with financial services (cited by 23.9%) and travel (21.5%).

“You’ve still got to buy groceries and fuel every week,” Ferguson notes.

With this knowledge, it becomes critical to keep shoppers loyal, even those who are scaling back during a tough economy, he notes.

“This might be an opportunity to let them know that you are still loyal to them,” Ferguson says. “In spite of how bad the economy has been, despite how much they’ve had to cut back, [shoppers] are very much engaged.”

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