Consumer Reports: Pros and cons of retail membership

Amazon Prime. People say it so often, it's almost a verb: as in: 'Just prime it and you'll have it in two days!' Now, more and more retailers are offering membership plans, betting that you'll pay a fee for the privilege of shopping with them. In exchange, they offer perks like free shipping, discounts and even interior design consultations. But before you join, Consumer Reports says, just be sure to weigh the pros and the cons.

When Randi Odesser shops at Whole Foods, she takes advantage of discounts available to her as a member of Amazon Prime's loyalty program.

"Which is the shrimp that's on sale for Prime?" Odesser said.

The $119 annual membership fee not only gets her deals on groceries, but also, free, expedited shipping, unlimited cloud storage for photos and access to tons of movies and music.

"I am a loyal Amazon shopper to begin with and now having the added benefit of Whole Foods discounts makes it even better," Odesser. "Definitely a win-win."

"Clearly, Amazon is onto something," said Margot Gilman. "More than 100-million prime members likely make Amazon their first stop, when they shop."

Consumer Reports says plenty of other retailers are also starting to see the benefits of membership programs.

REI Co-op, AMC theaters, Bed Bath and Beyond and Restoration Hardware are just a few of the companies now offering members perks including discounts, free shipping and priority services.

"The benefits sound great, but you have to make sure that the numbers add up," Gilman said. "Restoration Hardware, for example, charges $100 for a year for a membership, that entitles you to some discounts and design consultations. And that would be great if you have a lot of furniture in your future."

Just take care that simply having the membership doesn't lead you to spend more.

"Amazon Prime members typically spend an average of $800 a year more than non-prime members," Gilman said.

"I have my Amazon Prime app," Odesser said.

So follow Randi's lead and be smart when you join and when you shop.

And finally, be sure any membership is simple to cancel. You might not want to get stuck with a membership that renews automatically and is non-refundable.

Worried about how these clubs may impact your digital privacy? We've got some tips from Consumer Reports on their website.

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