Major Survey Finds Prepaid and Loyalty Card Use On the Rise

Fueled by the popularity of new retail gift cards, the number of consumers using prepaid cards and those interested in trying prepaid cards for the first time continues to increase, according to results from Standard Register’s second National Consumer Survey of Plastic Card Usage. Conducted in conjunction with Card Marketing, the survey identifies consumer awareness, opinion and plastic card use.

Compared to results of Standard Register’s 1999 National Consumer Survey of Plastic Card Usage, more U.S. consumers are using prepaid and loyalty cards, while the use of other cards remains virtually unchanged. The research found that the following percentages of U.S. adults use:

  • Credit cards – 88%;
  • ATM cards – 60%
  • Membership cards – 58%
  • Debit cards – 35%
  • Prepaid cards – 35%
  • Loyalty cards – 29%
  • Prepaid phone cards – 28%
  • Gift cards – 11%
  • Smart cards – 4%

“This year’s survey results indicate continued steady growth in the use of prepaid and loyalty cards over the next several years,” says Anne Rogers, product marketing manager, Imaging Services, Standard Register. “Driven by the introduction and expansion of retail and promotional applications, we expect consumer use of prepaid and loyalty cards to approach 50% within the next five years.”

Consumer awareness of all plastic cards increased from last year, with membership and debit cards increasing 10% each. Other plastic cards with significant growth in awareness include prepaid, 8% increase; loyalty, 8% increase; and smart cards, 7% increase. Another key finding about consumer awareness was that people say they carry more cards after hearing about the different card applications.

“When we asked respondents at the beginning and end of the survey about the number of cards they carry, the percentage of people who say they carry four or more cards increased from 49 to 60,” says Rogers. “We believe card issuers can convert this awareness into trial usage, and subsequently increase the number of regular users and frequency of card use, by helping consumers understand the benefits of their cards.”

Gift cards

Gift cards registered solid usage and awareness, considering they were primarily introduced as a holiday item over the last two years. Among all consumers surveyed, 11% have purchased a gift card, while 15% are aware of the cards. Seventy-one percent of people who have purchased gift cards gave them as Christmas presents, while 51% of gift cards were purchased for birthdays. On average, consumers spent $139.00 to purchase gift cards.
“The narrow gap between awareness and usage indicates that most consumers who know about gift cards, like them and buy them,” says Rogers. “Gift card use will continue to increase as more companies introduce and promote the cards throughout the year.”

Prepaid cards

The use of prepaid cards increased over last year, while credit, ATM and debit cards all showed slight decreases in usage. Gift cards contri-buted to the growth of all types of prepaid cards as gift-giving items. Half of the adults surveyed have given or received a prepaid card, an 8% increase over 1999.

Prepaid phone cards remained the most popular prepaid card, used by 28% of consumers. As in last year’s survey, people most commonly used a prepaid phone card when traveling. Convenience and lower per-minute rates make prepaid phone cards popular with travelers, which comprise 51% of all prepaid phone card users.

The survey indicates that, of consumers who are aware of prepaid cards, 42% learned about them through advertising. While advertising continues to play a significant role, in-store displays created awareness among 18% of prepaid card users. “This result reinforces our belief that informative and well-placed in-store displays, as well as attractive cards and packaging, are important to stimulating purchase of retail cards,” says Rogers.

Loyalty cards

Consumer acceptance of loyalty cards continues to rise. Forty-one percent of consumers report loyalty benefits influence where they shop, an increase of 5% over 1999, while 42% of consumers mentioned discounts as the most important benefit they look for in a loyalty program. Of consumers who have used a loyalty card, 43% stated they shop more often at retailers whose loyalty cards they own, a 3% increase over last year.

Membership cards

Overall awareness of membership cards increased 10% compared to 1999, while usage remained steady at 58%. Healthcare membership cards rank highest among membership cards used at 66%, followed by video store, 64%; library, 60%; and wholesale club, 58%.

The survey found high correlation between various membership and loyalty applications, such as video store membership and supermarket loyalty programs. “Regional issuers of cards may benefit from co-marketing with other complementary programs, increasing the benefits to the cardholders,” suggests Rogers.


A total of 1,103 telephone surveys with consumers throughout the U.S. were conducted during the first two weeks of March 2000. Respondents were selected using a “National Probability Sample,” which allowed the results to be determined at a 95% confidence level with an error of plus or minus 3%.

The survey did not reference Standard Register and was presented as a public opinion poll about plastic cards that many people carry. Respondents answered a series of questions on plastic card awareness and use.

About Standard Register:

Dayton, Ohio-based Standard Register is a nationwide leader in delivering customized document management solutions to healthcare, financial and general business markets. Offerings range from traditional forms manufacturing to commercial and digital on-demand printing; e-documents and related desktop printing solutions; plastic card imaging, packaging and distribution; Internet and paper-based billing services; supply-chain solutions; and integrated labeling solutions. For more information, call 800-755-6405 or visit .