Convenience largely trumps perks
Groceries make up a large part of any household's expenses so using the right piece of plastic can bring plenty of rebates and other offers to ease the pain at the checkout.
And that pain can be considerable if you have a big family like social worker Lim Swee Hock.
Mr Lim, 48, says using cards to get rebates really comes in handy when you have six mouths to feed.
He spends at least $400 to $500 on necessities a month at FairPrice at White Sands mall in Pasir Ris using the NTUC Plus! Visa credit card.
This gives up to 9 per cent rebate at FairPrice and related outlets such as hypermart FairPrice Xtra (see table).
Mr Lim says: "One of the main reasons I chose the card was for the rebate. You get an annual rebate and can also use LinkPoints, which can be converted to cash and redeemed on the spot at the cashier."
If Mr Lim qualifies for the full 9 per cent rebate, he can save up to $45 a month.
Customers can offset purchases with what are called LinkPoints, without the need for vouchers.
Of course, the banks and supermarket chains do not offer rebates and so on out of the goodness of their hearts.
Groceries were the No. 1 purchase by Visa credit and debit cardholders in Singapore last year, so by focusing on households that spend, they can expand customer numbers and build loyalty.
OCBC Bank, which offers Mr Lim's card and the Plus! Visa credit and debit card, recorded an almost 30 per cent increase in spending on these cards last year compared with 2012.
The bank said the number of these cardmembers grew by more than 10 per cent last year over the previous year while the average monthly spend on groceries rose 35 per cent.
They target supermarket and grocery shoppers at NTUC FairPrice outlets.
The NTUC Plus! Visa card offers one of the highest rebates, up to 9 per cent - a 5 per cent LinkPoints rebate and a 4 per cent FairPrice an-nual cash rebate.
However, the card is for NTUC members only, and membership costs $117 a year.
Moreover, the 4 per cent rebate applies to a maximum annual in-store spend of $6,000 at FairPrice and its related outlets.
The Citi SMRT card offers up to 7 per cent savings, but to enjoy the full 7 per cent, you need a minimum spend of $50 in a single transaction, at chains such as Cold Storage and Giant.
The Standard Chartered SingPost Platinum Visa credit card offers 6 per cent cashback on all supermarkets in Singapore, which sounds like the best deal.
But you have to spend at least $500 for that month to qualify for the 6 per cent cashback.
If you prefer house brands, UOB Delight Card is the winner.
You get up to 10 per cent discount off all house brands at three retail chains run by the Dairy Farm Group.
These are Cold Storage, Giant, and Guardian Health and Beauty.
Note that these cards offer great rebates, so before signing up, find out the strings attached.
Consumers are largely attracted to cards that offer deals at supermarket and grocery chains closer to home.
Teacher Victoria Hong, 31, uses the POSB Everyday Card for her weekly runs to Sheng Siong in Yishun.
She spends at least $100 a week and the card gives her a 5 per cent cash rebate each time she shops at Sheng Siong.
The other perk Ms Hong enjoys is the 3 per cent cash rebate at personal care chain Watsons, which she visits weekly for masks, facial products and medicine.
More importantly, she found getting rebates at Sheng Siong, which the POSB Everyday Card has teamed with, an easy task.
Ms Hong says: "The reason I chose the card was because of the instant cash rebate. It's hassle-free, especially when you're a working adult.
"I don't worry about minimum spending, because sometimes I may not need to buy a lot of stuff at one time. You can just spend any amount and get the 5 per cent rebate at Sheng Siong."
Mr Anthony Seow, DBS head of cards and unsecured loans, says there are more than 500,000 people using the POSB Everyday Card, which aims to be the "most preferred card for everyday spending".
The Citi SMRT card can be used to get rebates at a wide range of supermarket chains and outlets.
It offers 5 per cent off at Meidi-Ya Supermarket in Liang Court, a popular supermarket known for Japanese and other imported groceries.
Cards also compete by offering attractive perks such as petrol discounts and dining promotions.
The NTUC Plus! Visa credit card offers up to 19.6 per cent savings on petrol at Esso while POSB Everyday Card gives 20.1 per cent off at SPC.
The ANZ Travel Visa Signature card - which gives a 5 per cent rebate at Jasons Market Place and Giant - also offers a 5 per cent rebate at Guardian and Golden Village and a 12.5 per cent discount at the Paradise Group of restaurants.
Some cards also double as ez-link cards.
The Citi SMRT card offers a free ez-link auto top-up service with up to 2 per cent savings.
The POSB Everyday Card gives a 2 per cent cash rebate for those who choose the Ez-Reload auto top-ups.
Groceries from next door
The Maybank Family & Friends Platinum MasterCard can also get you rebates in Malaysia.
Besides selected chains such as Cold Storage, the Maybank card offers a 5 per cent cash rebate at well-known chains across the Causeway such as Tesco and Giant.
Ms Karen Low, head of cards and unsecured lending at Maybank Singapore, says: "The card is very popular among customers, especially young families, with its family-friendly perks on grocery shopping, health care, toys and lots more.
"We see a 16 per cent increase in our portfolio year on year. Additionally, we also have special promotions from time to time where cardmembers get to enjoy 10 per cent cash rebate instead of the usual 5 per cent."
Spoilt for choice
Before applying for a card that brings grocery rebates, ask yourself what supermarket chain you frequent and what other perks you have in mind, as well as the terms and conditions attached.
Mr Raymond Ng, managing director of Ray Alliance Financial Advisers, feels the grocery-oriented cards - for NTUC members and non-members - from OCBC may be one of the best for a family man like him.
He says: "They give good rebates ranging from 5 to 9 per cent, including additional LinkPoints being earned upon each purchase, and I'm able to find almost everything needed at the NTUC supermarkets as well as at NTUC Finest, making it very convenient and useful."
Eternal Financial Advisory chief executive Viviena Chin adds that a young family that might need to buy necessities such as diapers may find the rebates at NTUC good as well, as items are generally cheaper, while the UOB Delight Card may be good for a dual-income, no kids household.
Mr Ng also notes that NTUC Finest houses a good range of imported brands as well, making it comparable to places like Cold Storage or Jasons Market Place.
This means he may not have to use another card at another chain if he can easily find what he needs.
Banks planning to target grocery shoppers should make it easy to get the rebates at the point of sale instead of a month or year later: Convenience trumps perks when it comes to cards for shopping.
Ms Jenny Ho, 39, a marketing executive, who uses the UOB Delight card because she prefers house brands, says: "Everything is at Giant, I even bought an oven there. I like to shop there as it's all under one roof."