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Pros and cons of retail memberships

Amazon Prime. People say it so often, it`s become a verb: '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, be sure to weigh the pros and the cons.

Clearly, Amazon is onto something. More than 100 million Prime members make it their first stop when they shop.

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

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

The benefits sound great, but you have to make sure that the numbers add up. For example, Restoration Hardware charges $100 a year for membership, which entitles you to discounts and design consultations. That`s great if you have a lot of furniture in your future.

Just be careful that a membership doesn`t lead you to spend more. Amazon Prime members typically spend an average of $800 a year more than nonmembers. So be smart when you join -- and when you shop.

And last, be sure that any membership is simple to cancel. You might not want to get stuck with one that renews automatically and is nonrefundable.

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