This Perk Can Make Even a Low-Wage Job Appealing

A low-wage, part-time retail position isn’t most people’s idea of a dream job, but the weak economy is forcing some to consider this option if it should become available. It can bridge the gap until jobs in one’s own field open up again… as a second job to balance a stretched family budget… or as a retirement job to rebuild lost savings.

Part-time retail jobs typically offer low pay and limited benefits, but some do provide an attractive perk — an employee discount. Unlike most benefits, employee discounts may be available to part-time and seasonal help.

Employee discounts tend to be treated as an afterthought by job seekers, but these discounts can significantly increase the total compensation.

Example: A 20-hour-a-week holiday retail position paying $8 an hour provides less than $700 in total wages for four weeks of employment — and significantly less once income taxes are deducted and Social Security contributions are withheld. If a job seeker selects an employer that offers a 30% employee discount, however, and then does $1,000 worth of holiday shopping at the employer’s store, that is $300 added to his/her bottom line.

As a rule of thumb, the larger a company’s profit margins, the larger its employee discount is likely to be. Niche stores and boutiques often offer discounts of 30% or more… department store discounts tend to be around 20%… discount stores’ employee discounts rarely exceed 10%. However, discounters generally charge low retail prices, so a 10% employee discount at a discount store could result in lower prices than a 30% discount at a niche retailer.

Warning: The IRS might consider money saved through an employee discount program to be taxable compensation. Rules are complex, so check with your employer or tax adviser.


The discount policies of some large retailers (plus Web sites to go to for more information)…

Barnes & Noble. Employees receive a 30% discount on books. Discounts vary on other merchandise. (click on “Jobs”)

The Container Store. Employees receive a 40% discount on most merchandise and a 50% discount on the store’s best-selling elfa modular shelving and drawer systems.

JCPenney. Employees receive 20% off most merchandise and 15% off furniture and services, including salon and optical services. Bonus: On special JCPenney “Associate Days,” employees receive 35% off most merchandise and 20% off furniture and services. The company typically schedules three Associate Days per year.

Lowe’s. Employees receive a 10% discount.

Macy’s. Employees, spouses and eligible dependents receive a 20% discount on most merchandise. Bonus: Employees receive an additional 10% off on approximately 30 “employee-recognition” days each year.

Target. Employees receive 10% off. This includes prescriptions filled at Target pharmacies, grocery purchases at SuperTarget stores and online purchases at (click “Careers” under “Company Information” at the bottom of the page).

Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s is one of the few supermarket chains to offer an employee discount. Employees receive a 10% discount.

Walgreens. Store employees receive 15% discounts on most merchandise and 20% on store-brand merchandise. Bonus: Employees also qualify for 10% discounts on generic prescription drugs and 5% discounts on name-brand prescription drugs. These prescription discounts do not apply to insurance co-pays, however, and thus are of use mainly to employees who have limited or no prescription drug coverage. (click on “Careers”)

Wal-Mart. Associates receive 10% off most regularly priced general merchandise, fresh fruits and vegetables, and Wal-Mart Vision Center eyewear. Wal-Mart employee discounts usually do not extend to sale items or to most grocery items.


Retailers are not the only employers to offer employee discounts…

Restaurants often provide meals for their employees before or after their shifts for free or at very low prices.

Airlines often allow employees to travel for free on standby and their family members to travel for a nominal fee.

Cable and Internet companies typically provide employees with free or discounted cable and Internet services.

Telecom and cellular service providers usually offer their employees sharply discounted calling plans.

Movie theater employees generally can watch movies for free.

Health clubs may offer free memberships to employees.

Examples of nonretail employee-discount packages…

Comcast. Employees receive cable packages for free, as well as free high-speed Internet service, including installation and a cable modem. Employees must live in a Comcast-serviceable area to receive these perks. (click on “About,” then “Careers”)

Delta Air Lines. Employees can travel for free or at greatly reduced rates on Delta flights once they have worked for the company for 30 days. Free employee travel is “on standby,” so employees can be bumped from their flights in favor of paying customers. Taxes and airport fees might apply when flying to foreign destinations. Delta extends its free-travel perk to employees’ spouses, minor children, parents and same-sex partners. Employees must pay an annual non- refundable $50 activation fee before they can use their travel discounts.

Southwest Airlines. Southwest employees can travel for free and without limits from their first day of employment whenever there is an open seat on a flight. Spouses, dependents and parents of employees are eligible for free travel as well. Employees can earn free tickets for friends and other family members through the Buddy Pass Program, which parcels out ticket vouchers based on hours worked.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts. When rooms are available, employees and immediate family members can stay in Starwood hotels for as little as $29 per night through the company’s StarHOT program. Employees also qualify for half-price meals in many Starwood restaurants and free or heavily discounted meals during shifts. Starwood properties include Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis hotels.

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