The GE Rewards credit card program remains "comatose" despite an attempt early this year to revive it by canceling annual fees, according to consumer researcher Bruce Brittain.
In a survey conducted at the end of August, Mr. Brittain found that 560,000 households had been issued the General Electric Co. MasterCard, off slightly from 590,000 in an April poll.
Given the study's small margin of statistical error -- 4,000 households were surveyed, rather than the approximately 1,000 typical of many national polls -- it appears that Ge's credit card entry is, at best, at a standstill.
Ford Picks Up Speed
The latest study by Mr. Brittain's Atlanta-based firm, Brittain Associates Inc., also revealed a building momentum for Citicorp's cobranded Visa card with Ford Motor Co. And a separate Brittain study of the Dean Witter, Discover & Co. credit card, showed its customers are slightly fewer but more satisfied than a year ago.
"I think [Ge's] program is still confusing to people," Mr. Brittain said.
He pointed out that GE Rewards cardholders are eligible for an array of benefits, sometimes in the form of coupons mailed to the consumer by "partners" in the GE program, and sometimes in the form of rebates on retail purchases.
Left in the Dust
Some bankers feared General Electric more than General Motors Corp. when those two companies launched credit card ventures last fall.
But the GM MasterCard, issued by a unit of Household International, quickly left the GE card, issued by that company's Monogram Bank affiliate, in the dust.
Monogram, based in the Cincinnati area, was recently renamed GE Capital Consumer Card Co.
Analysts have said General Motors' simpler rebate plan, in which customers earn 5% toward a new car on every purchase with their credit card, enabled GM to pull away from GE and make a run at the industry leaders.
The automaker said during the summer that seven million of its cards had been issued.
In an apparent attempt to battle back against the no-fee GM Card, which reached the million-household mark in its first month, GE in January canceled the annual fee on its cards and even issued refunds -- at a cost of about $3.5 million, according to one market source -- to some cardholders.
Volvo and the Pier One retail chain became partners in the program, bringing the total number of partners to 27.
In addition, GE adopted tiered pricing. Its more credit-worthy customers were charged a 14.9% interest rate, two points less than the standard rate.
While Mr. Brittain said the program appeared stuck at fewer than 600,000 households despite these enhancements, a spokesman for GE said the firm is "on target" to hit one million accounts by the end of the year. He added that the business is "very profitable" for GE.
Brittain Associates said the Citibank-Ford program has begun to show strong growth, with the number of card-owning households doubling to about one million in the five months since the last survey.
Certain Number of |Retreads'
Mr. Brittain noted, however, that "a substantial portion" of Ford card owners were existing Citibank cardholders who were selected to receive the automotive rebate card upon their previous card's expiration.
"I'm sure that Citibank would prefer that the growth were all new accounts and didn't include retreads," Mr. Brittain said.
In a separate survey, Brittain found the number of households with a Discover card shrank to 18.4 million, from 19.5 million a year earlier.
The survey indicated, however, that a repricing last spring might have helped the big nonbank issuer, which was spun off this year by Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Frequent users of the Discover card who had paid a 19.8% annual rate became eligible for rates as low as 14.9%.
In the survey, those who said they had used Discover in the previous 30 days rose to 46% from 41% a year earlier.