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More corporations are recognizing that there's plenty of good will to be had if they extend a helping hand to the unemployed. Plus they're building customer loyalty and boosting sales.
Is this a win-win?
The latest offers of assistance come from the chains owned by the Sears Holdings Corp. -- Kmart and Sears.
Kmart is offering a Smart Assist savings card to those who've signed up for unemployme
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nt benefits in Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment rate, according to Financial Times. (Kmart was born in Michigan and headquartered there until it joined up with Sears in 2005.) The card provides a 20% discount on regularly priced private-label food and drugstore items and is good for up to six months.
Before you use the card, make sure you comparison shop. You might find a better deal somewhere else. But overall this seems like a win-win. Douglas McIntyre wrote at our sister blog, Top Stocks, that "Kmart has probably lost many of its customers completely and believes that the new incentives will bring these people back." But, he adds, "Sears and Kmart get a gold star for outstanding behavior."
Sears, the nation's biggest seller of appliances, is testing a one-month program nationwide for Sears customers who are laid off after making a big purchase. To be eligible, the Chicago Tribune reports:

  • You must spend at least $399 on appliances at Sears between July 6 and Aug. 1.

  • You must charge it on a Sears card issued by Citibank.

  • The Sears Web site says that "if you lose your full-time job after 60 days and up to one year from date of purchase, one-twelfth of your entire purchase price will be credited to your account each month until you are back at work or your appliance is paid off."

The Chicago Tribune added, "The full debt will be forgiven for customers who find themselves jobless for more than a year, and they will be able to keep the appliance."
Win-win? This program may be the tipping point for buying a new appliance you don't really need. The frugal approach would be not to spring for a new appliance until the old one gives out and/or you've saved up cash for the replacement.
Among other help for the jobless mentioned by Financial Times:

  • Pfizer will give free prescription drugs for up to a year to people who've lost their job in 2009, don't have prescription drug coverage, and were taking a Pfizer product for at least three months before their job disappeared. The offer covers more than 70 Pfizer medications, including Viagra. Catherine Holahan explained here at Smart Spending, "Customers are more likely to stay loyal to Pfizer's name-brand drugs if they can continue taking their medications at the company's expense when they can't afford it and not need to take cheaper generic drugs or go without."

  • This next offer has fewer conditions attached: Spartan Stores Inc., which owns 99 Michigan grocery stores and supplies several hundred independent grocers, is helping General Motors workers who were laid off due to plant closures. Progressive Grocer says:

In early June, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spartan provided 850 Michigan Proud bar-coded cards offering a 10% discount on groceries and 3% on fuel now through July 12, 2009, to the UAW Region 1D office for distribution to the auto workers affected by the (GM metal fabricating) plant closure for use at any D&W Fresh Market, Family Fare, Felpausch, Glen's Markets, Glen's Fresh Marketplace or VG's Michigan location. (Other locals have been included.)

  • This one sounds downright neighborly: Green Hills, a family-owned grocery store in Syracuse, N.Y., is offering 10% off on weekly shopping orders from loyalty-card customers who are unemployed. Customers can re-enroll in the program every four weeks, reported, adding: "During the Great Depression, the store extended credit to customers so they could feed their families, according to Heather Hawkins, whose family owns the business."

Related reading:
Can free Viagra ease the pain of the recession?
Here's help to find the best deals on prescriptions
Lose your job, get a refund
The new marketing trend: Job-loss protection
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